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City Reuse Plans for Studio Theater

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    Posted: Feb 03 2018 at 9:36pm

What’s next for the 90-year-old Studio Theater in downtown Middletown?

 5:00 a.m. Friday, Feb. 2, 2018  Local News
MIDDLETOWN


Middletown officials are accepting a final round of project proposals for the historic Studio Theater, hoping to save the building that has strong emotional ties for many in the area but that is now gutted and a drag on nearby structures.

Three previous tries have not produced a viable option for redeveloping the 90-year-old theater building. The price tag to redevelop the building could reach $5 million, and if no viable plan is accepted by the city, the building could face the demolition that was originally scheduled for 2009 before lack of funds postponed it.

The city acquired the title to the 30,000-square-foot Studio Theater property in 2014 and has sought a redevelopment partner three times in 2016 and 2017. City officials said the former theater has continued to deteriorate and is causing water infiltration damage to the adjoining buildings and businesses.

MORE: 2 new uses considered for former Middletown theater

“We’re giving a last effort to redevelop the Studio Theater,” said Jennifer Ekey, Middletown economic development director. “There’s a lot of emotional attachment for it because it means something to a lot of people.”

Ekey said that last spring the city received two responses to redevelop the Studio and only one proposal was viable. Two engineering firms performed assessments of the structure and its potential for redevelopment.

Both firms said in their reports that rehabbing the theater portion, basically removing the roof and leaving an open venue, was going to be an involved and expensive project as the cost estimate increased from $1 million to $1.5 million to a potential of $3 million to $5 million, if the wall height wasn’t reduced from 40 feet down to 12 to 16 feet.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” Ekey said. “…. This is a $3 million to $5 million project. It’s not something you can do for several hundred thousand (dollars).”

She said one bidder did not meet the minimum financial requirements, and the other withdrew its proposal after the engineering reports came out.

Inside the Studio

According to local historian Sam Ashworth, the downtown theater opened as the Strand Theater in 1929 and had 1,800 seats and closed in 1959. It was remodelled and reopened July 16, 1964 as the Studio Theater with seating capacity reduced to 1,000 seats.

The theater closed on April 24, 1984, but the office space on the second floor continued to be occupied until 1988. The building been vacant ever since.

“When I got here in 1964, the Paramount was already torn down so the Studio was the place to go,” Ashworth said. “It had been renovated and reopened. I don’t remember specific movies but it showed the first run films of the day for families and those dating.”

The former Studio Theater on Central Avenue in Middletown Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. The city is trying to sell the former Studio Theater building on Central Avenue in Middletown through its vacant property RFP (request for proposal) process. If unsuccessful, the city could demolish it later this year. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF Staff Writer

The inside of the former theater is gutted with debris on the floors and the roof with a number of open holes.

Although it has been vacant for more than 30 years, Ekey said the city paid $15,000 to resolve a roof remediation issue that was requested by the owner of the Liberty Spirits building next door. She said in the past few months, a new issue regarding water damage has developed, and the neighboring property owner is seeking remediation of the latest water issue in the range of $35,000 to $50,000.

In the proposal document released Wednesday to open the submission window, the city said there were two demolition options: demolish the entire structure, or demolish the rear (theater) and keep the facade on Central Avenue, which would enable saving the office area and first floor retail space as well as the facade on Central Avenue. City officials are willing to consider for a complete rehab of the 30,000-square-foot structure.

Ekey said that due to safety and nuisance issues and cost of the additional remediation, the city is considering demolishing the entire site. In the proposal documents, city officials said if there are no viable proposals, they will move forward with demolition of the property immediately after the proposal process is completed. The cost of demolition was estimated at $350,000, officials said.

“We have to balance community development with economic development,” she said.

Hoping to save a historic structure

The property is also located within the city’s downtown historic district, and no changes can be made to the appearance of a property without the approval of the Historic Commission.

City officials said the building was deemed inappropriate to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and cleared for demolition in 2009 by the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office.

The former Studio Theater on Central Avenue in Middletown Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. The city is trying to sell the former Studio Theater building on Central Avenue in Middletown through its vacant property RFP (request for proposal) process. If unsuccessful, the city could demolish it later this year. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF Staff Writer

One aspect of any proposal the city receives that will be closely scrutinized is the set of financial statements and ability of the principals to fund a redevelopment project that could cost upwards of $5 million. In addition to submitting a detailed proposal, the applicants have to participate in a walk-through of the property on Feb. 22 with city officials. The proposals are due back to the city by 11 a.m. March 13.

Mike Robinette, owner of Liberty Spirits adjacent to both sides of the theater, said his preference would be to see the entire Studio Theater rehabilitated, which he thinks would be good for the city and his business.

Robinette said his business is still getting water coming through the common wall after doing temporary fixes. Robinette said a permanent fix cannot be done unless the theater is rehabbed or torn down.

“I don’t know how that would work (a redevelopment instead of demolition),” Robinette said. “If it had made any sense, someone would have done something already. I’m glad to see that the city is going to do something. Having it just sit there is only going to deteriorate it further.”

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote spiderjohn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Feb 03 2018 at 10:16pm
"emotional attachment"???---to whom??  I don't hear it
I visited the Paramount, the Colonial and the Strand/Studio fairly often over the last 60+ years...
Paramount was the Cadillac imo. One classy place that filled with children for it's Saturday matinee extravaganzas. It went down without serious opposition, and I honestly think that the site might now be an empty field--dead center in the former downtown district. I miss the Paramount far more than the other locations.
Colonial was the lesser option for many years. Now known as the Sorg Opera House, it is the only real local chance for a theater-type option in the immediate area. I was fortunate to tour the facility during the last few weeks. If only..., maybe a few zillion $$ short of completion.
Studio/Strand--was closed when I remember in the 50s and 60s. Not sure when it re-opened as the Studio(help me out here, locals...).  Never really had much style or buzz, but at one time a decent facility while not nearly as ornate as the prior mentioned. Looks to be in critical condition, probably life support(from these photos). Now the roof is obviously in serious distress, causing water damage to adjacent  formerly city-owned parcel(s)(purchased then given away with abatements)--so the taxpayer is now probably on the hook for maintenance /repair to ALL of these structures AGAIN....
Our next Rose Furniture boondoggle???? 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (2) Thanks(2)   Quote spiderjohn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Feb 04 2018 at 3:24pm
to continue(I know that you love it!), we can't honestly get the Sorg Opera House up to code and have no real future plan there, so why would we be looking at 3-5 mill(which you know honestly means 7-10 mill)to start a somewhat similar project in the Strand/Studio just a couple of blocks away? Do we need two simultaneously stalled projects in dilapidated building only a few short blocks apart??

Where are our city leaders to say "Stop this insanity!!"

Why not go to the also dormant/stalled former Towne Mall property to create something along the same lines that could more easily pull from surrounding communities with better income that actually support these venues?

I worked with the Miami Middletown and Hamilton Artist series as a volunteer for the last few years--despite selling out the last two seasons, 90+% of attendees were from out of town. Despite their clamoring, Middletown residents DO NOT support these concepts, either financially or by attendance. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote VietVet Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Feb 04 2018 at 7:57pm
spider:

"Studio/Strand--was closed when I remember in the 50s and 60s. Not sure when it re-opened as the Studio(help me out here, locals...)."

I do know that when the Studio was active, I went there in 1965 as a high school junior for the prom jubilee they had at the time. We then went to LeSourdsville Lake for the follow-up after the movie for an all night event. Might have reopened from the Strand to the Studio around 1964, not sure.

Do remember the Paramount being the best of the three movie theaters at the time. As a little kid, saw Snow White with grandma and hid by face when the old evil witch was on screen. Also remember the spit balls, candy boxes and empty (sometimes) soda cups thrown from the upstairs balcony as well.

The pictures of the current condition of the Studio seems to indicate it is on the way to demolition. Can't see anyone wanting to purchase this building in it's current condition. Too cost prohibitive to fix up and make any profit no matter what venue is planned after rehab. It is gone due to neglect I believe.
I'm so proud of my hometown and what it has become. Recall 'em all. Let's start over.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote VietVet Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Feb 04 2018 at 8:21pm
spider:

"Where are our city leaders to say "Stop this insanity!!""

The city leaders ARE THE CAUSE of the insanity. Can't really ask the cause to be the solution. The overall city development, especially in the downtown area, is an ill planned train wreck concocted by incompetent people who couldn't find their behind with a blueprint. Clueless wonders with no common sense as I see it.

spider:

"Despite their clamoring, Middletown residents DO NOT support these concepts, either financially or by attendance."

And, as I have been saying for a long time, Middletown residents do not support the downtown theme nor what is offered down there. I would think most of the downtown patrons are from out of town as well. Just can't see a blue collar, low to middle income town supporting artzy/cultural events. If they want to build their downtown, I can't understand why they don't offer choices that cater to the demographics of the city. Coffee shops, watercolor drawings, chalk drawings, leather goods, wine tasting, small portion/high price restaurants and high priced paintings don't interest most who live here. McD's, pizza, beer, wings and NASCAR viewing do. Makes no sense to me why you would offer what most don't want.   
I'm so proud of my hometown and what it has become. Recall 'em all. Let's start over.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote buddhalite Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Feb 05 2018 at 1:17pm
Viet,

Your last post it spot on.  The issue is - that most of us east-enders have no desire to go downtown NO MATTER WHAT YOU PUT DOWN THERE!

If I'm going to drive that far and that long to get to downtown Middletown - I can be at Liberty just as well - and let's face it - there's nothing that can't be had there.

And I concur - you can't expect the problem to spearhead the solution.  Elections are the ONLY thing that matters in the this city right now.

Bob
"Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it."—Henry David Thoreau
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