Not too many years ago, Des Moines based RL Fridley Theaters decided that the costs of upgrading our theater to digital projection and audio systems - in addition to the other updates the facility needed - were more than they wanted to take on. Costs to upgrade combined with changes to their business model over the last handful of years, meant that our theater - however profitable it may be - would be closed, and our citizens forced to drive out of town to see Hollywood's latest films.
The need for digital projection has been in the pipeline for years; every major movie studio is gradually phasing out the production of the 35mm film of yesterday in favor of the crisp, clean, digital images and sound quality of today. Many small, independent theater operators have been unable to deal with the costs of such a conversion...but Knoxville is digging in and reinvesting in our theater, and in ourselves in the process!
After considerable research to determine exactly what this project might require, we went through the legal processes involved with setting up a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. Once established, the Grand Theater Foundation was eligible for grant funding, and all donations were deemed tax deductible - a major benefit for groups like ours. After fundraising several thousand dollars, we were extremely fortunate to have been given our real 'jump start' by our neighbors at the Iowa State Savings Bank. Their $20,000 contribution set the bar and established our Foundation as a serious entity with a serious goal to be achieved. ISSB recognized the benefits our citizens were missing by not having a community facility like this, and stepped up in a huge way to make our vision a reality.
The end of 2013 saw representatives from Fridley Theatres make the short trip from Des Moines to formally transfer ownership of the building to our group, and wish us luck with our endeavors. Their donation was another huge boost to our group and our community.
From there, we wasted no time getting started!
From there, we wasted no time getting started!
Volunteers have turned out in the rain and snow, in the heat and cold...pretty much whenever we've called! Folks have turned out in such a terrific and overwhelming way - it's just another signal that they're ready for their Theater, and they're ready to rebuild our Downtown!
Speaking of rebuilding Downtown, our little project has coincided with the Downtown Infrastructure and Streetscape project. All underground utilities have been replaced (including everything leading into the Theater) as have all the streets, sidewalks, streetlamps, and more. The end results are truly beautiful!
While the Theater interior is undergoing a major renovation, the facade is seeing some very exciting restoration! In our demolition, we uncovered the original brick and glazed terra cotta; some of which is in fantastic shape, and some is not. We've met with masons and reclaimed brick companies, and have removed the remaining steel siding from the facade. This phase of the project is underway, and has been incredibly exciting to watch! Included in the facade restoration are plans for updating the marquee, and recreating the large neon 'GRAND' sign from the late 1930's!
We have already replaced every inch of electrical infrastructure, all elements of the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, installed all new plumbing, rebuilt brand new restrooms, re-roofed the building, re-pointed the exterior walls on three sides, and have begun restoring the original facade, as mentioned.
The roof and upper portions of the side walls were leaking, the heating and cooling were limping along and inefficient, and the electrical systems were out of date, uninsurable, and incompatible with the new digital equipment we need to reopen the Theater for films. So, we decided to make a BIG mess and do everything we possibly could in order to make this a 'new' theater worthy of its history. Our goal is for this facility to last well beyond our efforts, and to benefit the people of Knoxville and surrounding communities long into the future.
Our overall budget is $500,000 which includes allowances for everything on our to-do list, while leaving room for extra in the event we run into major challenges. Even now - with the building gutted, and everything exposed - we're in great shape structurally, without any asbestos, lead, or mold issues to complicate matters. (WHEW!)
Up to now, much of our work has been completed with the help of our fantastic volunteers. With seemingly endless energy, and wonderful and varied skills, they're truly the oil that pops our corn!
With demolition and the lion's share of infrastructure work completed, the next phases of the project call for specialty equipment, training, and technology, so - in some ways - we'll be turning our building over to legions of trusted local contractors, as well as some of the regional and national leaders in fields related to the theater industry. With their abilities and our vision, we know this dark, empty building will soon spring to life, providing generations of Knoxville citizens with the creative space they need to continue building a better, more enriching community for us all!