Reel Progress

City workers wrap up key projects at theater

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The Texan Theater’s been back in business for a while, but there have been a couple of major hurdles in the way of calling it a ready-to-use events venue.

This summer brought air conditioning back to the building for the first time in decades, however, and fully-functional bathrooms are just days away from completion.

“There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done,” Chip Hale said Tuesday, but City of Kilgore employees and contractors have been doing yeoman’s work in getting the theater back on its feet: “We’re excited to go ahead and officially open up to the public.

“Through the fall and into the holiday season, we have events already scheduled. I’m glad to tell all those events that we have bathrooms.”

Hale, director of Reel East Texas Film Festival, is managing the property through a new agreement with Kilgore City Hall. Also last month, council members unanimously-approved a ‘final’ investment in ongoing projects at the South Kilgore Street property.

“We have been cooperating with Reel East Texas Film Festival on the rehabilitation of that facility,” Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck said, eager to keep momentum going at the Texan: "The past big projects include the asbestos abatement, adding electrical to it, the façade renewal, the leveling of the floor and generally bringing it into a condition it can be used.

“We’re moving forward with the second big phase of the rehabilitation. That kicked off at the last council meeting with the addition of an amount of money we feel should be sufficient to finish out the project: $295,000 in Hotel Occupancy Tax funds. It doesn’t hit our general tax base; it’s a tax our visitors pay when they visit our local hotels, set aside for projects just like this.”

A combination of historic preservation and tourism generation, Selleck underscores the one-bite-at-a-time approach to the long-term project.

At this point, the plate’s starting to look pretty clean.

“This next – and, hopefully, final – phase includes rehabilitating the plumbing for the restrooms, basically restoring them,” he said, “and adding a family, ADA restroom. It includes removing and replacing the balcony, installing a fire suppression system and making a number of other improvements that will making it truly a cultural arts center and performance facility.”

The bathrooms will be finished just in time, Hale added: the Kilgore Boys & Girls Club’s Texas Reverse Draw Down is Friday evening (see page 2) and East Texas Treatment Center’s free, sensory-friendly screening of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” begins at 2 p.m. Saturday (see Page 1).

“We’re using these two events as kind of our kick-off now that we have bathrooms, now that we have a sound system, now that we have a projector, now that we have AC,” he said. “We have everything you need to be a theater for movies, a concert venue for musical acts.

“For a town that’s so festival-friendly as a whole, to have another venue we can now take advantage of, it’s a lot of potential. Now to be able to have the Texan as a potential venue for them to grow is fantastic.”

The City of Kilgore still owns the theater – and the nearby Crim – and will continue to use the building as-needed, whether for last month’s Patriotic Street Party, the Kilgore Volunteer Expo Sept. 4 or as a rainout venue for Fridays After 5 Sept. 7. Meanwhile, RETFF will manage private uses: the Texan hosted its first wedding in July and the calendar’s filling up for the rest of the year.

Contact Hale at 818-915-2713 for more information about booking the venue. Log on to Facebook.com/TexanTheater next week for basic details on rates and availability.

“Going back and remembering how we got started with this is important,” Selleck said. “For many years we didn’t have a dedicated user for the facility. It was hard to justify putting resources toward the project until we knew how it was going to be used.

“With the inception of Reel East Texas Film Festival, we saw a user. Since about a year ago we partnered with the film festival, not just for their use of the facility, but they’ve been helping program the facility as well. We’ve had a dozen or so events in there the last year, and they’ve all been successful.”

When completed, the building will likely be hosting many, many more events throughout the year, he added.

“We believe there’s a demand for this type of facility,” Selleck said, “and when it’s completed it will be well utilized for a variety of different events.”

At competitive rates, Hale added.

“There’s also something to be said for the nostalgic charm that comes with using the Texan. I really feel the Texan has its own energy,” he said. “To not only have it available to the public, but available to the public for an affordable price is very fitting, right up our alley for a town that has events throughout the year. I think it’s very advantageous for us.”

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