Springfield Expects To Solicit Bids For Theater Restoration

12/30/09 7:34AM By Susan Keese
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(Host) Officials in Springfield hope to solicit bids in January on the restoration of its downtown movie theater.

The theater helped put Springfield on the map in 2007, when the town won a national competition to host the worldwide premier of "The Simpsons Movie."

The following summer, a fire shut the theater down.

VPR's Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) Visitors to Springfield can still pose for pictures with the plastic Simpsons that were presented to the town when the Fox film premiered.

The life-sized cartoon figures were in the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center when the theater burned.

But it'll be another year before anyone can take in a movie downtown.

The theater and the rooming house above it, collectively known as the Ellis Block, remain boarded up.  

Bill Morlock is executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority, the group that's spearheading the project locally.

(Morlock) "One of the reasons it's taken so long is that both myself and Housing Vermont are housing people and the theater is something we've never done before, and the theater has been a learning curve for us to ask the right questions, find the right people to help us along on that part of the project."

(Keese) Morlock's group worked with the nonprofit development agency Housing Vermont to acquire the Ellis Block, after the former owners said they couldn't afford to restore it. The project is expected to cost about $3.7 million dollars.

The Housing Authority used the housing portion of the building to leverage a mix of federal and state tax credits and deferred-interest loans.

The new design calls for nine affordable apartments.

Morlock says his agency worked with a theater consultant and the theater's former operators to design a state of the art movie house for the town. The old theater had two screens. Morlock says the new one will have three.

(Morlock) "Apparently, again this is the way I understand it, is that there's three main distributors of films. In order to have a contract with each one of these distributors, they require that the theater operators dedicate at least one screen for their particular product. So in order to get all the best films, you had to do that."

(Keese) Morlock says the theater will have an enhanced concession area, and will be accessible to people with disabilities.

He says if all goes well, the cinema could open as early as next December.

Patti Chaffee, the Executive Vice President of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, says that will be a good thing. She says the theater was an economic engine that kept the downtown lively in the evenings.

(Chaffee) "It brought people into the town and maybe they went to dinner first or you know stopped and did some shopping before they went to the movies... It is missed."

(Keese) Chaffee says that when the theater reopens, Bart Simpson and his cartoon family will remain at the visitor center, as a way of welcoming people to Springfield - whether they go to the movies or not.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

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