Can Irvine’s theater rise to its popularity again?
In its so-called “heyday,” the city of Irvine had many thriving businesses and two theaters on Main Street. A lot of Estill County residents went to town on Saturday to sit on Main Street and watch the people go in and out of the stores. It was a busy place to be.
But both movie theaters closed many years ago and now there are only a few downtown businesses. The old Irvine Theater has been made into a nice office building but the old Mack Theater (the one nearest the old Irvine Bridge) is just sitting there, unoccupied and unused.
Estill Development Alliance and the City of Irvine want to change that and a small group of people met at Irvine City Hall Monday to talk about it.
“I’d like to see that marquee lit up again, “ EDA Executive Director Joe Crawford said. “I always liked coming across the bridge and seeing it.”
Crawford introduced Ian Mooers, Executive Director of Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Technology at Eastern Kentucky University who is working with him to see what can be done. He told the group about a feasibility study that was done by EKU graduate students which was financed by a $3,500 block grant.
“They started in January and the full report will be made public when it is complete,” he said. “It will contain what they project will be the cost to rehabilitate the building.”
Both men said the inside of the building needs lots of work.
“It will have to be gutted and all the old seats ripped out,” Mooers said.
“The Coke stain on the old screen has to go,” Crawford said.
Crawford explained that in order to use the theater for local play productions, major renovations would need to be done because there isn’t a backstage area.
“There is no place to put dressing rooms,” he said.
Mooers told the group that the students had looked at rehabbed old theaters in other towns and that someone had started a theater group that went out in the community and talked to people and obtained their stories. They then made plays of them.
The original projectors are still in the building. They are antiques as they were gas fired.
“I imagine at least one of them will go to the historical society museum,” Crawford said.
Robbie and Regina Robertson were two of the people who attended the meeting. Robbie said his grandfather was a projectionist at the theater.
“He said they used to bring in giant blocks of ice and put a fan behind it so it would cool it up there (the projection room),” Robbie said. “I know it got awfully hot.”
Another thing Mooers talked about was that the building would have to be made handicapped accessible and that the lobby and bathrooms would have to be renovated and enlarged.
“Right now there is no room for a popcorn stand,” he said.
Irvine Mayor Ernest Farmer said he thought the theater is a good place for a convention center and that it could be used for several events.
“If nothing else we could make a museum out of it,” he said.
Mooers said that two contractors offered to give them free estimates on the renovation and that they are investigating several different funding sources.
“We can get grants but then we will have a match,” he said. “We will need to hold some fund raisers for that.”
The building is still owned by the McClanahan family who owned and operated the movie theater there for many years. Farmer said he had given them a price on purchasing it that he felt was reasonable.
“Even if the building was handed to us, it would take a lot of money to renovate it,” he said. “The whole community will have to get behind this,” he said.
Another community forum is planned for when the entire study by the EKU students is complete.