City puts silver in screen

Council OKs using funds set-aside for Texan Theater

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It won't be all that pretty, but an overhaul at the Texan Theater in the coming months will bring vitality back to a building that's been dormant for decades.

It's been about three-and-a-half years since Kilgore City Council members set aside $150,000 from the General Fund to pay for improvements to the Texan Theater. Some was invested last year in giving the historic downtown building a facelift, improving the facade while also performing a limited asbestos abatement.

Since that work in May, the building's been put to some use – by the City of Kilgore, the Reel East Texas Film Festival and others – who worked around its limitations.

On Tuesday, Kilgore City Council members signed off on a plan to invest the remaining $97,000 of the theater set-aside for a slew of projects aimed at transforming the facility into a viable venue this year.

“We're concerned today with getting the bones of the building back to a functional and sustainable point,” Selleck said.

It won't carry much in the way of aesthetics, he added, nor will it upgrade the old balcony or install a new fire suppression system. Those projects will come later: for now, the city is stressing a “bare bones” plan to prep the venue for events whose revenues can feed future projects.

“This has been a labor of love for the city for 20 or 30 years trying to get this facility back up and running,” Selleck said, a challenge to take a building from Boomtown and rejuvenate it for the 21st century. “The concept of the Texan has been so ingrained that name, that brand moved from building to building in the '30s and the very early '40s.

The original 'Texan Theater' on the current site burned, he noted: “While many other projects went by the wayside, especially quality of life projects, in Kilgore, Texas a movie theater was reconstructed. It opened in 1945 – with the war still going strong, the theater was rebuilt. That 1945 building is still, visually and structurally, the building we have today.”

A 1991 downtown master plan called for the shuttered building to be transformed into a banquet hall.

“I think what we're doing today takes that concept and puts it on steroids. It brings it into a full, multi-use, multi-purpose facility.”

In addition to installing an ADA restroom and repairing the existing facilities, one key feature the latest strategy borrows from the 1991 plan is to take the current three tiers inside the building, fill in the lower points and create a single-tier.

Nate Mobbs of the Mobbs Companies has offered to donate fill dirt for the lower tiers, Selleck said, which will be compacted and covered with about five inches of concrete after conduit is install for electrical feeds and audio/visual equipment.

From the remaining $97,000 set-aside for the Texan, Selleck's proposal estimates $40,000 for HVAC installation and related improvements, $20,000 for restrooms, $15,000 for upgrades to walls and doors and a $7,000 contingency in addition to the $15,000 necessary to craft the single-tier floor. The project includes the installation of a mechanical room, a storage closet and a stage area in addition to repositioning the movie screen installed in December.

“I didn't think six months ago I was actually going to be able to say this,” Selleck said, “but I think within that $150,000 we'll be able to get this back to being an operational facility.”

According to Selleck, a layout that fills the single-tier of space with round tables would seat about 250, up to 280, perhaps, if the table space is maximized. In a classroom-style layout of rows of seats, the venue should be able to seat about 350.

“I'm excited. I'm ready to go,” council member Merlyn Holmes said. “I'm ready to start having events.”

Kilgore Mayor Ronnie Spradlin underscored the long-term dedication and efforts of Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation toward the theater.

Currently, Selleck said, Reel East Texas Film Festival personnel are working with City Hall employees to coordinate events at the facility. including the festival's own activities (such as December's Christmas movie marathon and this week's Valentine's Day screenings) and others, like Kilgore Men of Alliance's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration at the theater.

A long-term agreement is being developed between the city and RETFF.

“With the current boom of business that we have, we think it may need more assistance than what we can provide internally. They (Reel East Texas Film Festival) have the passion for it, and they have the time and skill to do so,” Selleck said. “It's not pretty today but a lot of people just revel in the coolness of being able to resurrect a building like this from where it’s been for so long.

“As a multi-use space that's available, we're seeing a lot of demand for it.”

With events as well as commitments from individuals and foundations, the film festival has fundraising underway for the facility, Selleck noted, and has funded some projects.

“They've helped in a number of ways, and they've done so understanding the vision and the passion and the history for the building,” he said. “Their goal is for it to be a high-class facility.

“They're proving to be a very effective partner, and their passion for this facility is matched, I think, only by KHPF's.”

The council's green light preceded Wednesday night's Valentine's Day showing of “Casablanca” by RETFF.

Dustin Wilkerson's a fan of old movies. He's seen the 1942 classic multiple times but joined his wife, Casey, and friends for this week's screening in the historic theater.

“I grew up here. We just recently moved back to get closer to family,” Wilkerson said, and he's excited to see activity downtown at the theater: “Just the fact that there's some kind of culture going on where it once was devoid is just awesome.”

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