Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 21, 2014

Nonprofit group plans to reopen former Co-Ed Theater

By DONNA SCHILL CLEVELAND, Ledger staff writer | Dec 06, 2012
Photo by: JULIE JOHNSTON/Ledger photo Girindra Selleck was the only participant tall enough to reach the area on the old Co-Ed marquee to put up the new lettering stating that a new theater is coming in 2013. Handing the letters to him is Neil Cunningham, while his father Thomas Selleck gives directions. The reopened theater will be called the Orpheum Theatre under nonprofit status and will show first run movies in the remodeled space.

The Co-Ed Theater is exhibiting signs of life for the first time since Big Time Cinema deserted the operation due to bankruptcy less than three months ago.

A handful of residents gathered at noon Wednesday to letter the vacant marquee to read, “New Theatre coming 2013.” The declaration was the first visible indication of new management, not by a private operator as might be expected, but instead by a gathering of citizens eager to transform the facility into a state-of-the-art, community-run theater. To that end, about a dozen residents led by Patricia Draznin, Sheila Ross and John Matthews have formed a nonprofit registered with the state, the Orpheum Theatre and Fairfield Film Institute.

While many were mourning the loss of the Co-Ed in September, Draznin secretly rejoiced. She had her eye on the Co-Ed ever since she read about the State Theatre in Traverse City, Mich., in 2007. She learned how the nonprofit Traverse City Film Festival refurbished the century theater with the help of director Michael Moore, where it now shows 365 movies per year.

When the news broke the Co-Ed had closed, Draznin said she picked up her phone immediately to call the theater’s managing owner, Chris Johnson of Mandala 6 Land Partners.

“I told him, ‘I’m really excited the Co-Ed closed, it’s a great opportunity,’” said Draznin. “We could turn it into something really good.”

Draznin was not alone. Johnson said he received a flood of calls from people with ideas for the theater’s future.

Johnson encouraged the group to form a nonprofit, which would allow them the freedom to choose movies, and to raise the money to convert both theaters to digital technology, the new industrywide standard.

Draznin began researching for examples of communities that successfully had raised money to refurbish their town’s historic movie theaters. She found a dozen in Iowa including, Pella, Washington, De Witt, Lake Mills, Marshalltown, Denison and Mount Pleasant.

“All over Iowa there are theaters, which have already done the same thing and succeeded in refurbishing, converting to digital and are now operating in the black,” she said. “We feel very confident that once we’re ready to start taking donations, it’s not going to be a big deal to do.”

The committee hopes to raise approximately $300,000 to upgrade both screens, install a new sound system and to put in stadium seating. Johnson plans to invest in renovating the lobby and bathrooms. Mandala 6 Land Partners will manage the project.

The committee’s vision is for the theater to feature a variety of first-run movies, old classics and independent films. They plan to have offerings for all ages, with weekend matinees for children, late-night shows for college students and film festivals and premieres. The nonprofit will run the movie theater.

Johnson plans to restore the century-old lobby to grandeur with art nouveau or art deco styling. He also will provide seating for about 40 people at couches and tables, who can enjoy café items and beverages from several vendors.

“It’s a real labor of love,” said Draznin. “What could be more fun than restoring your hometown movie theater?”

The committee is in the process of forming an executive board, which will steer the activities of the theater and manage subcommittees in charge of movie selection, fundraising, etc. Draznin said there is no lack of volunteers.

“The minute we made the announcement, people began offering expertise, assistance, and some already have offered donations,” she said.

A subcommittee soon will approach the community for donations, she said. The nonprofit also will likely apply for government funding through state grants, but Draznin said they do not plan to ask the city for financial support.

Gathering feedback from the community is currently top on the committee’s list. In the next couple of weeks, the group will be dispersing a film survey throughout town.

“This will be a chance to tell us how we can best serve the community,” she said. “Fairfield has a very wide range of interests, and we want to satisfy everyone,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re really tuned in.”

While an opening date isn’t fixed, Johnson has estimated the theater will be running within the next six months.

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