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Group has ambitious plans for Massena’s downtown theater


MASSENA — Just one month shy of its 60th anniversary in 1991, Massena’s Schine Theater closed its doors. Now the Massena Arts and Theater Association is leading the effort to see the historic downtown structure reopened.

Crista M. Makdouli, who serves as vice president of the group, said the restoration of the theater is perhaps the most vital piece of the ongoing downtown revitalization efforts.

“The success of downtown revitalization depends on the theater,” she said. “It’s our anchor. With it, I think downtown can flourish again; without it, I think downtown will continue to struggle.”

While the building opened as a movie theater, it has hosted other events, and Ms. Makdouli said that is what her group, organized as a limited liability company, is hoping to see again.

“It was a movie theater in the beginning and it will be a movie theater in the end,” she said, adding that movies won’t be the only thing shown at the theater. “The opportunities with the space are endless.”

Without a backstage area, Ms. Makdouli said, the theater will likely never host full-scale productions like the Community Performance Series or Ogdensburg Command Performances, but she said that’s not what the group is shooting for.

“There will be live bands, and it’s nice to have a large community space for meetings and other events,” she said. “While the stage is too small for full theatrical productions, the theater could host smaller, locally produced shows.”

Ms. Makdouli said since efforts to restore the theater began earlier this year, a lot has gone on behind the scenes, and the group has received some good news.

“The cosmetics are rough, make no doubt about it, but the building is structurally sound,” she said. “This building is an example of old time architecture and how things were built to last.”

Ms. Makdouli said some local engineers have walked through the building and said its condition isn’t as bad as it may seem.

“A preliminary walk through for the theater’s restoration, and assisting with the electrical and structural details of the installation of the marquee has been provided by Lowe, Gravelle & Associates of Massena. They noted that the structure was sound and plan to provide engineering assistance in the future to the project,” she said.

The help they’ve provided so far and the promise of future assistance mean a great deal to the committee, she said.

“They have done all of our engineering and are very committed to this project,” she said.”They’ve been awesome.”

Also, with the announcement that gaming compact funds once again will flow into Massena, the Town Council has set aside $20,000 for downtown redevelopment, money that Ms. Makdouli said the association is hoping to take advantage of.

“I’m confident that we’ll get the full $20,000,” she said. The money will be used to install the marquee and make other necessary repairs to the building before opening it up to the public during this year’s Winter Carnival, which starts Jan. 16.

“We are hoping to light the marquee and open the building to tours on the night of the parade,” Ms. Makdouli said. “We’re hoping to hold our first fundraising event that night.”

Ms. Makdouli said donations will be accepted for the tours, which will give people an inside look at the building, where many grew up attending films and other events. She said a final cost estimate is not yet available, and while it will be significantly more than the $20,000 the group hopes to receive from the town, the project would be a good investment.

“Basically it just needs cosmetic and infrastructure repairs,” she said. However, she said the plan is still expensive.

“It’s going to cost in the high six figures and maybe even seven,” she said.

Portions of the project are already completed, she said, noting the marquee has been repaired and simply needs to be installed. The theater’s original seats have also been refurbished and are in storage, waiting to be reinstalled.

To make a donation to the theater’s restoration efforts, call Ms. Makdouli at 600-6644.

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