By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Meetings have been conducted about the future of the downtown Port Angeles building since the owner, Wenatchee-based Sun Basin Theatres, closed the theater March 2 because the $200,000 conversion to a digital projection system was too costly.
The 519-seat theater, which is on the corner of First and Lincoln streets, is listed for sale for $259,000, a price that includes a non-competition clause that prevents new owners from offering first-run films.
Two factions restated their interest in the theater at a meeting of about 30 people Wednesday night conducted by the Port Angeles Arts Council.
“The arts council does not want to buy the theater. We are here to explore the alternatives,” said Cathy Haight, arts council education director.
One group, led by Udjat Beads owner Lauren Jeffries-Johnson, envisions a nonprofit future for the theater.
Jill Hornsby and Rick Shaw have proposed a privately owned, community-funded theater business.
A third party, Paul Herek, a Port Angeles architectural artist and illustrator, said he was there to get information for a California investor.
He declined to identify the investor.
Real estate agent Dan Gase, who is handling the property, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting or return calls Thursday.
Jeffries-Johnson, whose shop is across the street from the theater, wants to help others create a nonprofit to raise money to buy the building and make it into an arts center.
She is not interested in purchasing the building or running the nonprofit, she said; instead, she wants to help others fill a major gap in the fabric of the downtown business community.
“Keeping the downtown area vital and alive is important to me,” she said.
Her group has talked about removing the traditional seating and replacing it with dinner theater-style seating or other models that would make it a multipurpose venue for lectures, theater and movies.
“I think it would be very, very dynamic,” she said.
Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts organizers are interested in using the theater if it becomes available, but there has been no discussion among the festival’s board regarding the possibility of purchasing the theater, said Dan Maguire, executive director of the festival.
Maguire estimated that it will take $1 million or more to buy and fully restore the theater to be a marketable attraction.
“You have to create a beautiful facility, cherry it out, make it this incredible facility that everyone wants to see,” he said.
He said a new nonprofit created just for the Lincoln Theater isn’t likely to work and that the theater’s best chance of success would be under an existing nonprofit organization.
Hornsby and Shaw want to buy the theater and run it with community support.
They said they want to remove the partitions and the first four rows of seats, install a stage and offer locally grown foods and food delivery service from local restaurants.
They envision a theater running independent films and older films or films where the filmmaker or cast can be on stage before or after the film, Hornsby said.
She said that when the theater wasn’t being used for films, it would be available as a community venue for events such as the Juan de Fuca Festival.
Bob Stokes of Studio Bob, who provided the meeting space, also said he has no intention of purchasing or managing the Lincoln Theater.
The 1916 theater was built during the height of the popularity of silent films, which dominated theaters until films with sound became common in the 1930s, said Bruce Hattendorf, associate dean of instruction and former cinema teacher at Peninsula College.
It would have had a small stage for vaudeville acts that were also popular at the time and an organ to provide music for the films, he said.
Currently, the theater is divided into three small theaters. The main floor is divided in half, with 177 seats on one side and 163 on the other, and an upstairs balcony has 179 seats.
Sun Basin Theatres also owns Deer Park Cinema east of Port Angeles, which has been converted to a digital system.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at email@example.com.