The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

March 12, 2014

Time is running out for Ashtabula's Shea’s Theatre

ASHTABULA — It’s now or never.

The time is now to restore Shea’s Theatre, city officials say.

“If the community wants this, it needs to be a separate board from the Ashtabula Downtown Development Association, and come up with a way to finance it and manage restoration,” City Manager Jim Timonere said. “Volunteers have taken it as far as it can go.”

Timonere made the remarks after the ADDA’s administrative director, Tina Bihlajama, gave a report on the association’s plans for the future at City Council’s community/ economic development meeting Wednesday evening.

In its heyday, Shea’s Theatre boasted lush carpeting, water fountains, a balcony and a large screen. Built in 1949 in an architectural style called Streamline Moderne, Shea’s Theatre remains one of the last remaining theatres of its kind.

Today Shea’s is the home of the Senior Center, which also owns the building. But the Senior Center is moving out soon, leaving many area residents hopeful that the once grand theater will return to its place of pride on Main Avenue.

A recent survey conducted by the Ashtabula Downtown Development Association (ADDA) reflects residents’ feelings. But renovating Shea’s Theatre won’t necessarily bring it back as a busy grand movie theater, Ward 4 Councilwoman Josephine Misener said.

“It would have to be a multi-use center,” she said.

Ashtabula businessman, Rick Coblitz, agreed.

“It would have to be cooperative, not competitive (with other entertainment venues in the area),” he said.

Council Vice President Chris McClure said there are many new auditoriums, such as Lakeside High School’s auditorium, to compete with Shea’s now.

In the ADDA survey, some 64 percent thought restoration of Shea’s was very important, while 62 percent thought historical buildings should be preserved. Improving the appearance of Main Avenue older building facades came in at 79 percent and more than half of respondents thought a movie theater doubling as a community centerpiece would be a good idea.

The ADDA commissioned a feasibility study with Michael Hurwitz of Historical Opera Houses, a Columbus-based organization dedicated to restoration of classic opera houses and movie theaters. He said it was worth restoration, but the most important thing was maintaining it as economically viable after restoration.

In the study Hurwitz said the project needed to consider if the community would be able to sustain the theater after restoration, how to get optimum usage and how to best manage the property. He said it would take 18 activities a month to sustain it.

Timonere said whatever happens to the old theater needs to happen soon.

“There’s a leak in the roof and bricks are falling off the back of the building,” he said. “Hurwitz said it will take $5 million and five years to restore it.”

City Council agreed with Timonere — time is of the essence and it will take someone with a paid position, dedicated to the cause, to make it happen.

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