Nonprofit group hopes to reopen Co-Ed in six months
Community members are coming together to reopen the Co-Ed movie theater, a Fairfield landmark, which closed its doors Sept. 12 for the first time in more than 100 years.
The new theater will feature a variety of movies from mainstream to old classics to independent films. The upgraded facility will have stadium seating, state-of-the-art screens and sound system, and a renovated bathroom and lobby area with vendors selling an assortment of refreshments.
Big Time Cinema, the last company to operate the Co-Ed, filed for bankruptcy in September. Chris Johnson, managing owner of the Co-Ed building through Mandala 6 Land Partners, said while he couldn’t find any theater operators to take Big Time’s place, he received overwhelming interest in opening a community-run theater.
Johnson said Fairfield resident Patricia Draznin is leading an effort to form a nonprofit organization to raise approximately $300,000 to renovate the theater. The sum would cover converting both screens to digital technology, a new industry wide standard.
Johnson is investing in renovating the lobby area, which he said will be designed in an art nouveau or art deco style.
“We’ll make it really lively,” he said. “It will be one of the nicer lobbies in town.”
Johnson said he’s been waiting for Big Time Cinema to clear bankruptcy before beginning construction.
“They’ve cleared bankruptcy now,” he said, “so we can start sending in crews.”
Johnson said the group hopes to reopen the theater within six months, but said it depends on fundraising. He said he wasn’t certain if the nonprofit would approach the city for a financial contribution. He said the project requires a relatively low investment for the large return it will afford the community.
“It’s a great value for the money donated,” he said.
Johnson said the nonprofit will form a film committee to manage the showings.
“We’ll do some mainstream film and some independent film,” he said. “We’ll respond to what the community wants and what’s economically feasible.”
He said one theater will most likely have a small stage for speakers, seminars and interactive events with film directors.
“We feel this will be a tourist attraction,” he said. “We’ll have films you won’t be able to see anywhere else in Iowa.”
He said the theater will serve all ages, with free matinees for children, as well as late-night events such as cabaret and improv acts.
“It can address not just film need, but a lot of cultural desires in the community,” he said.
Johnson said while Fairfield will show a wider variety of films than most in Iowa, it will function much like other small-town theaters revived by the community. He said towns, such as Pella, Mount Pleasant and DeWitt also were abandoned by theater operators and formed nonprofits to reopen their doors.
“We spent about a month doing research of other theaters around the state to figure out what works,” he said. “Looking in our own immediate area, many small towns are recognizing the cultural value and significance of having a movie theater.”