ASHTABULA — Great theater awaited folks who attended a meeting Tuesday at the Senior Center about restoring Shea’s Theater.
At the invitation of the Ashtabula Downtown Development Association, theater restoration expert, Michael Hurwitz of Columbus, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd about rescuing, restoring and returning Shea’s Theater to its former grandeur.
He garnered much support from just about everyone — except Troy Bailey, a member of the Ashtabula County Council on Aging Board of Directors, who said he was asked to speak Tuesday on behalf of the board.
“We own the building, the bricks are falling off of the building and we are taking the building down,” he said. “We plan to demolish the theater.”
The Council on Aging owns the building at 4632 Main Ave., but only a small portion of the building is used for the Senior Center. Behind a false back wall is the main hall and the theater.
Bailey called the theater “an albatross.”
His statements shocked the crowd.
Lynda Annick, president of the ADDA, who welcomed the crowd, said, “People remember Shea’s from years ago and said they would like to see it restored, so we brought in an expert.”
Before the meeting, ADDA member, Roberta Madar-Pruett, said she heard the seniors were looking to relocate but believed no decisions about the Shea’s future had been made.
Afterward, Hurwitz said he was sorry he “stirred up a hornet’s nest.”
He believes Ashtabula has just what it takes to start such a project — an exceptional turnout for its first meeting.
“You have to energize the community and that’s what happened here today,” he said.
Hurwitz complimented Shea’s architecture.
“It’s a beautiful art deco attraction,” he said. “The banister, the marble ... but it’s your decision. It’s what your community wants to do.”
City Council President J.P. Ducro IV said he believes the attendance showed the interest in the project.
Bailey said the Council on Aging has a $249,000 federal grant that will expire in 2015, and it plans to tear down Shea’s and remodel the front portion of the building for a new Senior Center.
“We’ve been trying to get out of this building for 15 years,” he said. “We get lots of suggestions, but no money.”
ADDA Vice President, Marty Cephas, encouraged the disappointed crowd to “never give up hope.”
Madar-Pruett hoped remodeling Shea’s would revive downtown.
Ducro said, “If this project doesn’t work out, identify other historic buildings. Let’s find one that’s feasible.”
Constructed in 1949, M.A. Shea paid $1 million to build the 1,530-seat theater, according to a Nov. 22, 1979 article in the Star Beacon.
The marquee of Shea’s went on to become the focal point of downtown Ashtabula through 1965, according to news reports.
Hurwitz is co-founder of the New Lyceum Circuit, which partners newly restored theaters with independent artists and entertainers. The circuit is overseen by Heritage Ohio and the Ohio Arts Council — two groups the ADDA has been working with in its efforts to revitalize downtown.