Theater renovation project enters new phase

MARIETTA – A new round of renovations begun at the Peoples Bank Theatre in Marietta.

Deep in the bowels of the former Colony Theatre, employees from Marietta-based Grae-Con Construction prepared the sub-basement for structural work.

Among other tasks, the crew will bolster underground walls and add new walls, said Dan Stephan, chairman of the nonprofit Hippodrome-Colony Historical Theatre Association.

“The sidewalk on the Third Street side is in bad shape and they’ll be fixing it so it isn’t a hazard,” he said.

The project is expected to be completed by Nov. 1, Stephan said. It is funded by the final $78,000 of $150,000 the theater received in Community Development Block Grant funding from Marietta,

Restoration of the nearly 100-year-old theater has been ongoing for about 12 years now, he added.

“The financing is difficult. It’s such a massive project,” said Stephan.

The theater group is hoping to secure the final $1.2 million needed for the $7.4 million project through a tax abatement program, said Hunt Brawley, Hippodrome-Colony Historical Theatre Association director of development.

“What we’ve been trying to do is finalize the funding through historic and new market tax credits. We’re in one of the low-income qualifying areas,” he said.

Without the credits, the theater might have to scale back some of its restoration efforts, said Stephan.

“There’s a possibility we might have to cut the scope of the project. Could be the basement dressing rooms we eliminate. Or we may eliminate finishing the dressing room in the tower,” he said.

The association has also been partnering with local groups to turn the 200 block of Putnam Street into an entertainment district. Both Peoples Bank Theatre and the Mid-Ohio Valley Players Theatre are located on that block, Brawley said.

“Essentially you have the Mid-Ohio Valley Players with just under 300 seats and Peoples Bank with 1,000 seats. You have theaters with the ability to serve different clientele and different times. You could do a lot of neat things with a variety of programming there,” he said.

Peoples Bank Theatre will eventually be available for groups to rent for concerts, plays and other productions, Stephan said.

Creating a designated entertainment district has worked well to promote downtown business and tourism in other communities and could do the same for Marietta, Brawley said.

“I’ve always heard that we get a lot of tourists in Marietta,” said Stephan. “The problem is there’s not a lot for them to do after 5 p.m. This will get people to stay the night in Marietta more often.”

The entertainment district idea has already sparked two Ohio Arts Council grants, the second of which will soon be implemented in conjuncture with Marietta Main Street, formerly ReStore Marietta.

The grant money will help fund signage, street scape improvements and marketing materials that will help promote the theaters and the area.

Though there is no definitive completion date for the theater, the association members are hoping to get started on more restoration work by the end of the year.

“But we need to get financing in place first,” stated Stephan.