Theatre is competing
for facade improvement money
votes decide winner
of $25,000 prize; help needed
(September 2010) Could a $25,000 cash prize
make a big difference in the appearance of Madisons Main Street?
The Madison Main Street Program thinks so, and the organization is asking
the community to help win the money to prove it.
This summer, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has asked
communities to identify an American place that is so important it must
be saved. The winning project will receive $25,000.
by Don Ward
in downtown Madison,
Ind., has been nominated
to an online voting
contest to determine
if it is historic enough
to warrant receiving
a $25,000 grant to
help preserve it.
The Madison Main Street Program has responded by nominating
the 72-year-old Ohio Theatre. Now it is up to the public to decide online
which project will win the National Trusts This Place Matters
Local residents can vote for the Ohio Theatre among all the other projects
nominated from across the United States on the National Trusts
website, www.preservationnation.org. Or contact the Madison Main Street
Program (812) 265-3270 to obtain the Internet link for voting. The project
with the most support will win $25,000. The deadline for voting is Sept.
Out of all the worthwhile buildings in Madison, why nominate the Ohio
Its a true iconic piece of our community, said Main
Street Executive Director Rhonda Deeg. Small community theatres
are dying all over. The Main Street Programs Design Committee,
which includes Deeg, Pam and Larry Newhouse, Wanda Gross and Sandy Schaele,
decided the Ohio Theatre is clearly worth saving.
Ohio Theatre owners Tony and Laura Ratcliff couldnt agree more
with the importance of the theatre to the city. Even if you take
the emotion out of it, the No. 1 thing is the economic impact of the
theatre, said Tony Ratcliff. The small town theatres that
are left many cities are working to preserve them.
Were a historic theatre in a historic district. Theres
been a theatre here in this spot for more than 100 years, he noted.
In the early 1900s, the Nickelodeon showed short narrative films at
105 E. Main St. When feature films came into vogue, the Nickelodeon
was replaced by the Little Grand Theatre. In 1937, the Little Grand
burned. When it was rebuilt and expanded in 1938, it re-opened as the
Ohio Theatre. The Ratcliffs bought the theatre in 1996 after a couple
of years when the movie house was not in use. Theyve kept it open
ever since, but its not been easy. In March, they announced the
building was in foreclosure and they were looking for investors. With
the help of some investors, the mortgage has been refinanced, but additional
investors are still needed.
Preservationists often look to a communitys historic theatre to
lead the way in downtown revitalization. While Madisons downtown
is more lively than many small towns, Tony Ratcliff would like the Ohio
Theatre to continue providing ambience to Madisons downtown.
It feels more alive when theres a theatre downtown,
he said, noting that the theatre admits 30,000 each year. If it
wasnt here, what would happen?
The Ratcliffs have a business plan to continue the Ohio Theatre as a
movie venue while diversifying into live entertainment. They plan to
continue hosting community theatre productions and concerts, especially
during the spring and fall months when movie attendance is traditionally
lower. In August they spoke with consultant Bruce Marquis of Bloomington,
Ill., who was hired by the city to evaluate possible venues for community
theatre and arts events. Marquis has not yet reported his findings.
In the meantime, the Ratcliffs acknowledge that they need to spruce
up the outside of their building to be worthy of community pride.
Theres a saying in the movies, The show starts on
the sidewalk, said Tony Ratcliff. It has to make that
good first impression.
If the Ohio Theatre wins the $25,000 prize in the community challenge,
the money will be spent on exterior rehabilitation.
Deeg said the most pressing aspect of the theatres exterior renovation
is the marquee. Each side has more than 300 bulbs, most with their original
1938 wiring. Ratcliff wants to begin restoration with the labor intensive
job of rewiring the marquee. Only then will the chasers,
the twinkling lights that seem to travel around the outside of the marquee,
be seen again on Main Street.
The proposed restoration will also address other issues, such as removing
vinyl siding to reveal the brickwork below.
Wed want to restore it to its glory, said Deeg. If
we are to receive this award, thats what wed focus on the
removal of the vinyl siding, exterior painting and restoration of window
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