Gate City Theatre restoration project moving forward

Holly Viers • Aug 22, 2019 at 7:30 PM

GATE CITY — A long-envisioned restoration project at the Gate City Theatre is well on the way to becoming a reality.

Gate City Frontier, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring downtown, has been spearheading the project in conjunction with town officials. Architectural designs for the facility were recently completed, and fundraising efforts are now underway.

“It’s going to be an economic development tool,” said Town Manager Greg Jones. “Once it’s up and running and we’re bringing people in, those people are going to want to shop, and it’ll increase demand for our hotel. There are a lot of spin-off benefits.”

What’s happened so far?

Various groups and individuals have shown interest in restoring the theatre since the mid-1990s, but a serious effort began a couple of years ago, when the back wall of the theatre became structurally unsound and had to be torn down.

From there, Gate City Frontier and town leaders expressed shared interest in restoring the facility. As part of a $3,000 project through Rally Southwest Virginia, volunteers made temporary improvements to the theatre last year so that it could be utilized while the larger restoration project was being planned.

Improvements included cleaning out the facility, adding electricity, installing doors and a roof over the entrance and adding a stage and projector. Since then, Gate City Frontier and town leaders have held several events at the theatre, including concerts and movie screenings.

More recently, the project received $50,000 in grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. A market demand assessment was competed in May, and an architectural report was finished about a month later.

What will the new facility be like?

Allan “Cotton” Roberts, chairman of Gate City Frontier, said the plan for the theatre has evolved based on the success of other theatres in the area.

“We originally thought about going back to a traditional theatre,” Roberts said, “and then we did visits around the area to theatres they’d done, and they weren’t getting the activity that they thought they were going to get with them. … We wanted to go with something totally different than what everybody else has got, so that was the concept that the architect came up with.”

To fit in with the outdoor recreation emphasis in Scott County, the theatre will be a partially outdoor venue used for things like movies, dinner theatres, concerts and other community events. A multi-use community center is also being planned next door to the theatre and would include a kitchen, meeting rooms, offices and other spaces.

“Everybody I’ve shown it (the plan) to just loves it, and everybody’s excited about it,” Roberts said. “The next step is for us to start promoting it to the community and to start asking for funding, donations, and to start seeking grant money.”

How much will it cost?

The theatre and community center together will cost about $4.1 million, Jones said. Grant funding and historic tax credits should take care of $2.5-3 million, while the rest will need to come from community donations, he added.

Why is this important?

Roberts said he believes the theatre will help transform downtown and bring more life into the area.

“I feel like it could be an icon for Gate City and Scott County,” Roberts said. “There’s nothing really like it in Scott County, and I just feel like it could be the anchor that could really establish downtown again. That’s what our goal has been for the last six to eight years is to try to bring downtown Gate City back to life.”

Rita Tipton, vice chairman of Gate City Frontier, said the theatre will create a welcoming atmosphere for family-friendly entertainment.

“It’s a place where families can get together and enjoy something together,” she said.

To donate to the project or to volunteer at upcoming events at the theatre, contact Gate City Frontier on Facebook or by email at gatecityfrontier@gmail.com.