Time to go show

Ely’s State Theater building will live again

by Tom Coombe
Five years after it was rescued from disrepair and decay, Ely’s State Theater building will live again.
A major and massive renovation project is coming to a close and the building’s owner has completed a long search for a tenant: a nonprofit organization formed this year by nearly a dozen area residents.
That group,operating under the name Ely’s Historic State Theater, is brainstorming ideas, generating funds and working toward a late-fall grand opening, perhaps in November.
The nonprofit will lease the building from Alley A Realty, which has purchased and refurbished numerous Ely buildings, and intends to make it home to an array of potential events.
In addition to movies, the main theater is set up as a multi-purpose venue, with the stage extended to accommodate for theater productions and an open area at the front of the room to go with 234 completely refurbished theater seats.
Alley A’s Tanner Ott has overseen the renovation project and has worked closely with the new nonprofit, which has formed in the last two months.
“One of the reasons that I’m excited to be working with them is that t heir vision aligns a lot with what he hoped it would be,” said Ott. “There had been people who looked at doing it, but from a narrow perspective of just cinema. This group, their mission is to work with cinematic arts and performing arts. This building has been such a prominent part of our downtown, probably its best use is as a multipurpose venue.”
Alanna Dore is part of the nonprofit group, and word of their activity has quickly spread.
She said Thursday that “we have had a number of different people who have spoken to us about using the space.”
The nonprofit is still in its initial workings and has yet to finalize or formalize its plans for the venue.
“Personally I would like to see a set movie schedule,” said Dore. “Be it every weekend, or the second and fourth weekends. It may change during the summer when more people are in town. Yesterday, we met with a performing arts group who thought the space is marvelous. What they’re talking about doing is something with a small number of actors on stage.”
During the renovation stage, Ott has spoken to many people in the theater industry and he’s using his insight to advise the nonprofit.
“My role is I’ve been carrying this knowledge I’ve learned the last few years and introducing the board to people I think would be valuable for them to know,” said Ott.
The nonprofit is toying with various ideas including perhaps the formation of a film club.
“The key ingredient to making is successful is having movies that people will turn out for,” said Ott.
Dore said Ott has been a valuable resource as the group moves forward.
Ely’s Historic State Theater has launched its first fundraising drive - giving people or groups the opportunity to purchase an engraved silver nameplate on each of the theater’s seats.
New seats, with the original cast iron “end standards,” are being built by a Michigan firm that designed and installed all of the seats at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
A $400 donation allows someone to get an engraving of three lines or less, at a maximum of 12 characters per line.
For more information, email the nonprofit at info@elystatetheater.com.
The nonprofit is raising money to offset its many expenses associated with getting the project off the ground, including the purchase of projection equipment that could cost as much as $200,000.
According to Dore, “nailing down projection equipment” is one of the most pressing tasks for the nonprofit.
The theater was also recnetly equipped with 16 “Surround Sound” speakers, to better accommodate theater and other productions in a venue that will hold up to 300 people.
It’s been roughly a decade since the theater last operated, and the renovation project was one of the most daunting and massive taken on by Alley A.
Built in 1936, the building had a leaking roof and other infrastructure woes.
Ott first worked to stabilize the building as well as the adjacent structures, and the theater was gutted and remodeled, with much of the facility restore back to its original condition.
New doors have what Ott termed “submarine windows” that match those used in the building’s heyday. The ticket booth has been restored and the theater itself has enhancement including a ramp that could be used for handicapp access of VIP seating, more houselights as well as the extended stage.
A second screening room was also built in the Salerno building, and Ott envisions a restaurant/bar area on the east entrance of the property, home of the former Frank’s Variety Store.
For now, the nonprofit is only leasing the theater portion but Dore did not rule out expanding.
“We’re trying to be really start here at the beginning,” said Dore, who indicated the nonprofit has no formal director, with board members instead dividing responsibilities.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Dore. “We’re hoping for the best. We’re hoping we can keep it going and keep it going in an interesting way.”
Other board members are Carol Orban, Patsy Mogush, Dennis Miller, Chuck Zeugner, Nancy jo Tubbs, Brett Ross, Steve Voiles, Steve Schon, Cindy Beans and Karen McManus.
Ott hailed the work of Kovall Construction, saying “I think we’ve got one of the best crews around. There are so many little details. With historic preservation, a lot of thought gets put into fine details, like preserving the rest room signs and replacing the old door handles.”
Dore said one of the goals is to step back in time.
“I was talking to one of the older folks who remember ed penny caramels,” said Dore. “She went as a kid and remembered penny caramels. It was nine cents to get in and another penny for a caramel. We’re thinking about finding penny caramels.”