Arcadia Theater to shine again, downtown

Anne Overby, executive director for “Arcadia Live!” checks out a large reprinted photo of what the Arcadia Theater looked like shortly after its opening in 1926. She and a small staff are overseeing renovations, to re-create the downtown icon as an event center.

With construction work proceeding daily to restore the Arcadia Theater downtown, Executive Director Anne Overby said the new “Arcadia Live!” group has plans for a July 2020 event and are ready to proceed to that party for the city, based on the Texas Governor’s and City of Kerrville’s okay.

Their new website is www.thearcadialive.org, for this and all other information.

Arcadia Live has received all the city money, most recently the EIC funds approved by city council, the $400,000 from the accumulated Hotel Occupancy Tax fund.

She said the $600,000 from the EIC is a “forgivable note.”

They also received $500,000 from the Kathleen Cailloux Foundation that is a matching grant.

And they have raised enough to match that $500,000 that they only need $15,000 more by the end of May.

“Now we are past most of the capital expenses and on to other things we need, like chairs, bar equipment and the stage curtain,” Overby said. “I have been working on grant applications to some of the larger foundations, but some of that process has been pushed back because of COVID. We’re fortunate that we’re close.”

Overby said she was very excited about the construction of the new deck outside across the back of the building, overlooking the river, and the new boardwalk that will connect the front sidewalk on Water Street down the side of the theater building to the new deck.

Another big change will be the addition of three large glass garage doors in the back wall, providing visual and literal access to the new deck overlooking the Guadalupe River and Louise Hays Park.

Across that back wall, the three new doors will be one 12 feet wide X10 feet high in the center, flanked by two doors 8 feet wide by 10 feet high.

Overby expects reserved seats on that deck for some events will highly sought after, especially for Fourth of July events in the park below, and because the 1950s Arcadia Theater neon sign from the front of the building has been refurbished and hung on a back corner of the building to shine on that new area.

“We’ve ordered a new replica of the first theater sign on the front of the building, the 1926 design,” Overby said.

The street-side entrance will replicate the old “mission style” with wall decorations and a small metal balcony, while the “poster boards” may be digital.

Downstairs

“The front entry of the theater will be wider and taller, with new doors, while the entry hall is being fully restored,” she said.

The ticket booth will be moved where the Arcadia office space fronts on Water Street.

At least four of the iconic curved display cases in the entry hall walls also are being restored.

And a local metal-worker hand-crafted new inserts for the ceiling light fixtures in the main entry, in a design that mimics old traditional film reels.

There will be a new bar in the old theater “cry room;” and a new elevator and a women’s restroom in the old theater vending area.

Downstairs, they plan for up to 304 seats – not “fixed” seating, but sturdy black folding chairs that can be moved into different configurations depending on the event.

The floor there is being leveled into three level sections from back to stage so chairs, or chairs and tables, or room for dancing can be accommodated.

Upstairs

There also are changes upstairs, where the seating area in the balcony of the old movie theater is being transformed to four “suites,” with space for a total of 52 seats. Partial dividing walls will allow for short rows of seating facing the stage, backed by low walls and entertainment space behind there for four-top tables and more chairs, or just space for “partying.”

Overby said two of the four suites have been spoken for; but the other two were still available as of last week. And when the main “benefactors” are not using their suite seating for some reason, those seats also can reserved by other guests.

The suites were first offered for corporate memberships, with special “perks.”

Upstairs also will include a bar for those using the suites, and men’s and women’s bathrooms in what used to be the old film room.

Those sturdy foldable movable black chairs also are a funding opportunity, Overby said. They’ve started ordering those and for $199 for one, and $150 for a second one – or more – the buyer can have his or her name put on the chair(s). About half have been spoken for.

These will be stocked at the theater, and when used will not always be placed in the same spots, depending on the events held there.

Membership levels

The Arcadia Live board has created four levels of membership, plus creating a volunteer corps. Overby said volunteers who take tickets or usher or other jobs will then be allowed to stay for the show, at no extra cost.

The membership levels are:

• Student memberships;

• Annual memberships at $120 per year;

• Annual memberships at $250 per year;

• Annual memberships at $500 per year.

Each allows varying numbers of “perks.”

Sponsorships in the Capital Campaign include “Naming Opportunities,” $50,000 and up; Capital Campaign Donations,” $1,000 or $5,000; Corporate Sponsors, $2,500 or $5,000.

Again, each level brings varying numbers of “perks.”

‘Arcadia Live’

New plans to renovate and re-open the old Arcadia movie theatre downtown were much-discussed by the new volunteer corps who planned this project, and by council and citizens at the City Council meeting on June 25, 2019.

“Kerrville’s Fourth on the River” and that organization’s plans to renovate and reopen the old Arcadia Theatre in the 700 block of Water Street generated both council and citizen questions after a presentation by Executive Director Anne Overby.

Overby told council the Arcadia movie theatre was built in 1926 and closed in 1988; and has been empty for 31 years. She said the theatre was gifted to KFOR, now Arcadia Live, by previous owners Steve and Shawna Huser debt-free.

Overby said the building has updated electricity, HVAC, roof repair and basic demolition of the former interior theater space.

“The Arcadia re-branding, capital campaign and programming are in process with a projected re-opening of the theater set for July 3, 2020,” she said. “The board proposes the addition of four suites, two bathrooms and a bar to the mezzanine level.”

She showed a floor plan of those proposed changes.

Overby said the addition of three glass garage doors is planned, to open the back wall behind the stage; and the addition of a deck behind that wall to overlook the Guadalupe River.

“We plan to level out the slope in the auditorium to three flat, tiered areas, using non-fixed seating for various audience needs, including chairs, tables and chairs, or standing-room only,” she told council.

Total needed campaign revenue is $2.3 million.

Overby said they are stressing “multi-purpose uses of this historic space.”

They promise to provide 24 big shows of live entertainment in the first year, up to 36 shows by year three.

Corporate events could include renting the stage, the suites or the entire floor.

Other events could include birthday, retirement or dinner parties; rehearsal dinners, talent shows or recitals, dance nights on the lowest floor level; and holiday parties.

She also listed the possibility of matinees and movie nights with the purchase of a “Digital Cinema Package.”

Overby said they are consulting with the Paramount Theatre of Austin, also run by a nonprofit; and Arcadia Live is a new member of the League of Historic American Theatres, which gives the local group a “community of knowledge.”

“We envision proactive programming, drawing on the strengths of our board members,” she said. “We are excited to be a community partner in downtown, providing entertainment for those who come to Kerrville to shop, eat and play.”

City staff reaction

Deputy City Manager E.A. Hoppe prefaced this presentation with an introduction, saying this project meets three expectations of the Kerrville 2050 Plan including downtown revitalization, creating a living room for the community and a front door for visitors; and supports new anchors downtown such as this theater and the A.C. Schreiner mansion to increase public and visitor traffic.

Hoppe noted “a likely effect of drawing in patrons from outside the local market, enhancing the local tourism industry and hotel occupancy rates.”

Citizens, some newer residents and some former movie-goers at the theater, said the new plans sound positive, but asked for definite plans to show more movies there in the future.

Council voted 5-0 for the city manager to finalize the draft agreement with (now) Arcadia Live.

History

The Arcadia Theatre provided magic on the movie screen for more than 62 years in Kerrville and has now spent the last 32 years waiting for someone to successfully fund and finish its renovation.

Mindy Wendele, former Main Street manager for Kerrville, said in preservation circles, experts generally consider 50-year scales for “historic” purposes, but since the Arcadia was built in 1926, there’s no “historic” question about this theatre.

“Whether you love the Arcadia or hate it, it’s a heartfelt thing either way. It’s an emotional building,” she said during her tenure. “It’s a shame the stars have not aligned for this, because it’s a worthy building for our downtown.”

It’s been a long road with mile-markers of previous nonprofit groups’ efforts, fundraising with some tangible results but no completed project, and still an empty building that could be an asset for Kerrville.

The movie theatre operated 1926-1988, and then sat empty but still furnished with seats, screen, etc., until 1991.

In September 1991, a new nonprofit group the Guadalupe Arts Alliance set a goal of raising $50,000 to purchase the Arcadia. By October 1991, the GAA had raised enough to buy the Arcadia Theatre for $30,000.

The original theatre seats were sold to individuals after that, one of the ways the GAA tried to raise funds. The GAA had a plan to renovate the theatre, totaling $250,000. They added a sprinkler system and fire alarms, and renovated bathrooms, the lobby and the “cry room.”

They also removed the chairs, the art-deco wallcloth, projection screen and stage.

Their efforts continued over several years with the group changing their name to the Arcadia Theatre Group Inc. by April 1996. They spent their funds on a new roof, ceiling, sprinkler system and ladies’ restroom.

In late 2003, the ATG proposed the City of Kerrville take over the theatre building as city property. The city accepted the property in January 2004.

An Ad Hoc Advisory Committee of nine citizens talked about a multi-use facility, giving recommendations in the spring of 2005.

Also, citizens voted approval of the city collecting an extra 1 cent in sales tax to go into a fund earmarked for Arcadia Theatre renovations. Close to $400,000 accumulated in that fund.

Two specialty firms, the local Cailloux Foundation and another area individual submitted studies and proposals into mid-2007. Discussion was lively on the differences in designs, and resulting costs, and council took no action on them.

In 2007, city council offered a Request for Proposals on the theatre and got four responses, from the Texas Arts & Crafts Educational Foundation, and three other groups.

A city staff committee picked the TACEF’s proposal and negotiated into November. Council and TACEF experienced roadblocks, and TACEF backed out of the discussion.

In August 2008, city council again advertised for RFPs, this time to sell the building, not just manage it for the city. Council waited for proposals by November 2008, and voted then to negotiate with Hossein “Hagi” Hagigholam for the sale of the theatre. Hagi submitted one of two proposals and the other was withdrawn before council considered the question.

By late March 2009, the contracts were final with a sale price of $10 and Hagi didn’t get the accumulated hotel/motel tax funds, but agreed to spend $250,000 of personal funds. Hagi announced plans for a New York-style venue and had an architect working by mid-2010.

Steve Huser became Hagi’s partner by spring 2011, but the joint venture didn’t last.

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