Historical Theater Case Studies

The Newbury Opera House – Newbury, SC

The restoration of the 550-seat Newbury Opera house, according to The New York Times, helped save that community by attracting over $90 million in foreign businesses to their newly created business park.


Buskirk-Chumley Theater – Bloomington, IN

The Indiana Theater, built in 1922, and the only remaining downtown vaudeville and movie house, seemed an unlikely candidate for a successful renovation. However, the community has proved those skeptics wrong. The renamed Buskirk-Chumley Theater has over 200 days of use each year. This represents an incredibly diverse array of national touring acts; local community performances, gatherings, lectures, etc.; Indiana University use; as well as corporate presentations and private parties. All this is managed with a budget of 70% activity-generated funds and only 30% public support. All this in a town populated by only 89,000 people.


Hennepin Theatre Trust – Minneapolis, MN

The Hennepin Theatre Trust is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit presenter of Broadway, concert and variety entertainment in three historic theatres in downtown Minneapolis. These theatres attract approximately 600,000 people to downtown Minneapolis each year. The indirect spending and jobs which flow from these visitors is significant…if one used an extremely conservative estimate of $20.00 per patron in spending related to their theatre visit (beyond ticket price), the economic impact would be $12 million annually. A major touring production alone can result in the infusion of millions of dollars.

These three historic theatres (with seating capacities of 1,000, 2100, and 2650) are all owned by the City of Minneapolis. The first theatre restored received tax increment funding of $8.8 million. The second two theatres (the most recent of which reopened in 2002) do not receive city assistance. Rather, the City issued tax exempt revenue bonds and pledged a ticket surcharge as the repayment source. (Minneapolis has a program for pooling some revenue bonds and through that program provides a credit enhancement to improve the rating on these bonds). The Hennepin Theatre Trust covers the operating costs for the three theatres.

When the first theatre was restored in 1991, it seemed incomprehensible to many local citizens that these tired old facilities could still work. But work they do. In fact, they have revived the oldest street in Minneapolis: Hennepin Avenue. A five block streetscape improvement program was paid for entirely by the benefited property owners…an action that was unthinkable not many years ago.


Normal Theatre – Normal, IL

Normal sits in the center of Illinois, 100 miles from Chicago, 200 miles from St. Louis. In the late 1930s, a small town theater was built in the Art Moderne style of the day, with a modern sound system and the best in film entertainment. Today, the Normal Theater is a centerpiece of the town that recognized the need to save this historic structure through the community support behind it.

The Normal Theater operates under the Normal Parks & Recreation Department as an historic movie theater. With an annual budget of $240,000, the theater is charged with paying it all back each year through revenues generated from ticket sales, concession income, merchandise sales, grants, sponsorships and donations. It's a break-even business, but the community embraces the town for saving such an historic landmark, both a useful and beautiful addition to the downtown. But, most of all, it is a great accomplishment for the Town to have the foresight to see the use and need to save an historic building.

The Normal Theater was bought, restored and re-opened in 1994 by the Town of Normal and today shows no signs of slowing down.


Cascade Theatre – Redding, CA

In 1998 our National Public Radio network was seeking a new studio location for our northern California studios in Redding, CA, and upon exploring various properties for purchase, decided to acquire Redding's shuttered 1935 Cascade Theatre.  The Cascade was located right in the center of the economically-challenged downtown.  We had no previous experience with theatre ownership or restoration but a quick survey of the literature told us that properly restoring a downtown historic theatre created enormous economic synergy in a community. We needed to buy a building anyway, and we wanted to do something positive for the community in the process. We told the Mayor we were willing to take this on, working hard to realize a restoration that would both create a needed performing arts center as well as significantly stimulate the downtown economy - but we needed to know that the community would work with us. We didn't ask for City funding and he made no promises. We both understood that Jefferson Public Radio would be taking on the largest private fundraising effort in the community’s history.

The restored theatre opened in the spring of 2004, about $5 million dollars later. The community believed in this building and believed in the importance of making a statement about their downtown.  Businesses, individuals, philanthropic organizations, the building trades, and eventually the State legislature, all have helped.  Since we bought the building and restoration began, the downtown community stopped demolishing buildings - which had been the previous practice.  They began looking for ways to save them - private citizens and government agencies - and they have successfully sought funds to do so.  A major downtown revitalization plan is in progress.  New businesses have opened as our neighbors.  A 1912 hotel across the street, slated for demolition, has been completely restored as low income housing.  On December 1, 1999, the daily newspaper identified our purchase of the theatre as one of the Top Ten news stories of the decade - because of the significance it created for the Redding community.  And, in the process, the community's willingness to invest made believers out of the initial skeptics about downtown economic health.


Keswick Theatre – Glenside, PA

At the Keswick Theatre, we can clearly trace the revitalization of our neighborhood (suburban area just 1 1/4 miles from the City border) to each time this venue was revitalized (1928, 1955, and 1980). The most recent restoration took the venue from a movie theater to a performing arts center and it now holds over 150 events a year, has a mailing list (people who ask for the mailings directly) of 90,000, and an email list of over 20,000 (all opt-in clients). The theatre provides space to the community (at reduced rate rentals) for children’s stock programs, for recitals, and for many other purposes. We provide low cost educational programming to schools from a thirty mile region including scholarships to over a thousand children a year through the Eastern Montgomery Co Cultural Enhancement Endeavor.

Patrons come into the area, eat at the restaurants, shop in the shops and generally improve the local economy. The taxes generated help the Township. It is a win-win-win. AND it's done commercially.


The Tarrytown Music Hall – Tarrytown, NY

It is a well known fact that performing arts centers are major factors in the development of a successful neighborhood. In 1980, the Music Hall, a long time movie theatre built in 1885, was closed due to the rise of multiplexes in the area and plans were in place for it to be torn down. The town mirrored its state of decay: the run-down Main Street was full of bars, motorcycle gangs and boarded-up stores. The theater was rescued by a group of local citizens who recognized that this building was unique and incredibly important to the economic and cultural welfare of the area. Today, the Music Hall is thriving as a venue for live performances and films. It is the center for community groups where students have the experience of performing, and it is a haven for professional artists such as Judy Collins, Dizzy Gillespie, Savion Glover, Wynton Marsalis, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, John Tesh, Lucinda Williams and many others. At the same time that the theatre was brought back to life, Tarrytown began to change and it is presently flourishing. The streets are generously lined with shops and restaurants; not ONE boarded up store exists. Tourism is popular and people are scrambling to move and live here. Twenty-four years after the Music Hall was to be demolished, people are treasuring it and cannot get enough of what they so nearly lost.

White Plains, the closest large city to Tarrytown, on the other hand, made the mistake of destroying their historic theatre. After the demolition, the city was completely dead at night, there was no nightlife AT ALL. It took thirty years for the city to figure out why and in November, 2003, millions of dollars were spent building a new theatre in an effort to revitalize the downtown. Unfortunately, the theatre they have built cannot even begin to compare to what was originally there. It is just an ordinary black box. There is no charm, it is nothing special. What they lost is tremendous and can never be replaced.


Tennessee Theatre – Knoxville, TN

Until the mid 1950s, the main downtown thoroughfare was dotted with theatres of all sizes (then not so historic) that played host to a multitude of entertainment options for Knoxville. The next three decades were not kind to urban centers of all sizes, including downtown Knoxville. Theatres and other "old" buildings were abandoned, burned, sold, and destroyed to make way to progress--sometimes manifested in the form of a parking lot.

In 1982, through the generosity and vision of one individual, our glorious Tennessee Theatre, a 1928 movie palace seating 1550, was saved from ultimate destruction. Since then the Theatre has operated on a small scale but successfully, surviving through that period where city centers were undervalued.

Now, in the 21st century, when life is again being injected into downtowns all over the country, our Tennessee Theatre completed a $25 Million renovation and restoration in 2005. The community as a whole, from leaders to corporations to ordinary citizens, has demonstrated their support of this project by raising almost 75% of the needed money locally. Knoxville, with a metro population of less than 400,000, has two historic theatres on that main downtown thoroughfare. The Tennessee Theatre and the Bijou (renovated in 2000) go a long way in creating a vibrant, cultural, and relevant downtown.


Flynn Center for the Performing Arts – Burlington, VT

The restoration and re-use of the historic Flynn Theatre in Burlington, Vermont has had a huge impact on the region. Situated in downtown Burlington, the theatre was purchased as a seedy movie house in 1980, and through four phases of restoration has become a Center for the Performing Arts with large and small performance venues, a gallery, studio/classrooms and year round programming.  The Winter/Spring Season of classes expects to serve over 300 children and adults through these classes - many of them meeting weekly over 12 weeks. The theatre generates traffic, visibility, and taxes for downtown.

About 60% of the programming in the facility is their own presentations. The remaining are rentals.  They conservatively estimate the economic impact to be $20 Million a year (2004 dollars). They have helped sustain an incredible variety of restaurants in downtown, creating a lively year-round and after-hours ambience. Scores of people have moved back downtown.

The City supports the theatre through relief from property tax, working on street improvements, occasional grants, and with sponsorship of their summer jazz festival which brings 30,000 people into downtown.


Bardavon Opera House – Poughkeepsie, NY

During the 1960s-70s, suburban sprawl and the shift of business to shopping malls decimated the downtown of Poughkeepsie, NY. As business after business fled the Main Street thoroughfare, the Bardavon Opera House declined apace. Despite its legacy of more than a century of superb live performances by world famous artists and its second career as first-run movie palace, the Bardavon was to be torn down in the name of urban “renewal” to become a parking lot. The citizens’ group that saved the theater did not ride in on great white horses. They were average people – IBM employees, retired businessmen, retailers, housewives. They took on an immense challenge, which nearly four decades later has yielded miraculous returns.

Within a few short years of its escape from the wrecking ball, the theater was reopened as a performance hall, incorporated as a non-profit presenting organization, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. By 1980, a formal capital campaign was launched to initiate measures to address the mile-long list of the building’s problems and needs. This was the first stage of numerous fund raising efforts that over the years have brought in some $6-7 million to restore and preserve this gem of a hall, the oldest continuously operating theater in the State and among the oldest in the nation.

What can a once-on-the-skids regional theater do for its community? In the mid-1990s the Bardavon survived a massive corporate downsizing that came hard on the heels of a national recession, devastating this region. This was achieved by developing programming that reached into the heart of the surrounding community – shows that brought inner city neighbors into the theater through rock-bottom admission prices, performances that featured their children in culminations of classroom artist residency programs. They also developed a series of free outdoor seasonal festivals that brought people out onto the downtown streets and to the waterfront to enjoy the city and share in the diverse culture of this extraordinary river valley. Creating these events also created lasting partnerships between artists, business and government – partnerships that nourished the seeds of economic recovery and laid the foundation for economic development strategies that are happening today.

In 1999 they assumed the ownership and management of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic (HVP), which had succumbed to bankruptcy after providing superb classical music to the region for 40 years. Today, the orchestra is back at the Bardavon and satellite venues in two adjoining counties – stronger than ever before. The Bardavon also continually mentors other non-profit colleagues. For instance, they assisted the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum in finding and acquiring foundation funding for their new location, a historic industrial building on the riverfront. This property is adjacent to a once-derelict stretch of city waterfront park that was reclaimed and transformed into a community event space. The Bardavon originated and spearheaded this project, organizing a collaboration between the City and corporate donors.

Their school day series and education programs provide some 35,000 students annually with performances, workshops, and master classes that make learning fun, offering their teachers innovative perspectives and tools for curriculum development and meeting the challenge of the required NYS Learning Standards. These programs serve thousands of children and teens from inner city neighborhoods, especially in the Poughkeepsie City and Beacon City school districts, which have substantial low income and poverty level enrollments.

The Bardavon is generously supported by City, County and State Legislature grants, and is among the three top recipients statewide of NYS Council on the Arts (NYSCA) program funding and ranks first in capital funding. In 2002, Governor George E. Pataki officiated at the inaugural lighting of the theater’s restored marquee and capital campaign kick-off. Subsequently, the Bardavon received the NYS Governor’s Arts Award and a Business Excellence Award for Non-Profit Achievement from the Dutchess County Economic Development Corporation.



The mission of the League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT) is to advocate, promote and facilitate the rescue, restoration, reuse and sustainability of historic theatres and other heritage buildings used for cultural assembly and endeavors. The LHAT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Membership is open to all organizations, businesses and individuals interested in historic theatres. The League is 100% supported by membership dues, revenues generated from its programs and services and the generous support of private donors and sponsors.


Source: The League of Historic American Theatres, 334 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-4042

Tel:(410) 659-9533 E-mail: [email protected] Web: www.LHAT.org


Contact Information

The Woodward Opera House,

107 South Main Street
Mount Vernon, OH 43050

(740) 392-6102
(800) 837-5282

[email protected]


Engage arts and community leadership to authentically restore the Woodward Opera House into a fully functional theater operation, develop the overall Woodward facility into a contemporary self-sustaining arts center for community interaction, become a catalyst for excellence in education, encourage civic engagement, and enrich the quality of life in the Mount Vernon ~ Knox County, Ohio area.