Investment in Antioch Theatre is paying off, officials say
The language of a local law establishing an entertainment tax to help revive the old Antioch Theatre shows a commitment from village leaders to save the ailing structure, and some uncertainty about doing so.
However, a year after a $750,000 renovation, made possible in part by a village-backed 75-cent per-ticket tax, the investment has met expectations.
"It's working exactly as planned," said theater owner Tim Downey, an investor who owns another building downtown. "About 40,000 people attended movies last year. That was more than adequate to make the loan payment."
According to the village, Downey has repaid $29,858 on the 10-year note, with all monthly payments on time and in full.
Deteriorating and in danger of being shuttered, the venue at 378 Lake St. reopened after an extensive renovation in February 2015. The updated version has 168 seats on the floor and another 50 seats in the balcony of the main theater, as well as a former adjoining shop converted to a 29-seat boutique showplace. Improvements that included new seats, restrooms, carpeting, facade and marquee were made in the style and flavor of the 1920s and `30s.
"The community has been supportive from Day 1," theater General Manager Cindy Kottke said. "Once they come, they come back. They're in awe of what's been done here."
Moviegoers are greeted and served drinks and snacks from staff behind a small counter immediately inside the entrance.
"I love it. I think that it's awesome being in a small town with a small-town theater. It's more personable when you come in and you actually talk to people here and know who is here," Antioch resident Rebekah Krueger said. "I just love this community in general, and having this here is just a bonus to it."
Downtown supporters say the project has increased foot traffic, which can benefit shopkeepers and restaurants, and has set an example for recent renovations at other Main Street businesses, such as Dairy Queen and Polson's Natural Foods.
"You've seen a good amount of investment in downtown this past year," Downey said.
While hit movies such as "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" helped draw patrons to the refurbished theater, new facilities, the nostalgia factor, reasonable prices and other factors have attracted many first-timers, who have become repeat customers, he said.
"For this market, it's a great little theater," Downey said. "It's a combination of many things."
That's also good news for the village, which continuously is trying to protect and enhance its Main Street. Like many small communities, Antioch long ago said goodbye to the pre-mall glory days and has to figure out ways to maintain consumer interest.
"It's almost it's own story," Mayor Larry Hanson said of the village's first action of this nature. "A private partnership investment someone took on with a little support from the community can be done."
The structure was built in 1919 as the Majestic Theatre, a live performance house, and it was converted and renamed the Antioch Theatre five years later. The venue never was a grand movie palace, but a simple building that had become a fixture downtown for generations of residents and visitors.
Deteriorating conditions and slumping attendance had put its future in jeopardy when Downey posed the idea of remodeling and upgrading the building and its facilities, including a conversion to digital equipment.
To do that, he invested $300,000 of his own money, secured $200,000 from the village, found four core sponsors to contribute $150,000 and raised the balance through sales of engraved sidewalk stars.
The ordinance establishing the ticket tax noted the village board "wholeheartedly" supported the concept of reviving the theater in order to draw patrons downtown and provide other benefits. Leaders also found "with a degree of reluctance" that advancing the funds for this "one unique instance" was in the public's best interest.
"It's fun to report my confidence in the community and the community's confidence in me has paid off," Downey said.
The decision to support the theater has been the right one, according to Trustee Mary Dominiak, who is the village board's liaison for economic development. She said it supports the recently adopted Community Vision plan and has contributed to a "growing interest to renovate existing businesses."
Barbara Porch, executive director of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the renovated theater is a "vital part of our historic downtown," that is helping other businesses by bringing people to the area.
Formulating a strategy focused on downtown had been in the works but was put on hold with the departure several months ago of Dustin Nilsen, former community development director. Dominiak said a downtown development initiative will be relaunched next month with meetings to include government officials, businesses and residents. Becoming a MainStreet community is being considered as an option to enhance downtown.
"I think we've planted some seeds and if the village can help water those seeds, we'll see more happen," Downey said. "A lot of people do care and love this downtown."
• Daily Herald staff writer Gilbert R. Boucher II contributed to this report.