Residents work to restore Robins theater, downtown

WARREN – The latest effort to save the Robins Theater is expected to take place this weekend when 13 students from the New York’s The New School come to Warren to begin the process of determining what residents want from the theater and the downtown area.

“The Robins Project can be the catalyst of downtown revitalization,” said Melissa Holmes, an area resident and a graduate of The Milano School for International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, a division of The New School. “We are hoping this weekend will be a kickoff for community engagement.”

Holmes said the effort will include elected officials, non-profit leaders, and young people to gather ideas, develop goals and get them to become ambassadors of the project.

The three-day program will begin on Friday, allowing The New School students to get to know young people and community activists.

On Saturday, there will be an invitation only luncheon at Saratoga Restaurant in which local leaders, including Mayor Doug Franklin, WRAP Director Anthony Iannucci, City Engineer Paul Makosky, TNP Director Matt Martin, Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative representatives and others will address some of the issues facing the city.

On Sunday, the students will work with local residents at Aaron Chine’s Guerrilla Gallery, 160 N. Park Ave., in a drawing and idea session.

“Our goal is to make the downtown area a place where people want to go to for entertainment and to live,” she said.

While The New School students only are in the city for the weekend, the plan is for them to develop connections with local young people in an effort to transform the Robins complex as a creative hub of the downtown area. “We hoping these students will bring a fresh set of eyes and ideas,” Holmes said in hoping this can become a yearlong project for the New School students.

The students will also be collecting information over the next several months through Facebook. But Holmes emphasized any work that will be done at the Robins will be based on the input from the local community.

Over the years, there have been numerous discussions about bringing back a theater to downtown. Revitalization of the Robins is part of the Poggemeyer study from which the city’s 10-point strategic plan was developed.

The Robins theater was purchased by the Phillips family in the early 1980s. Built in 1923 by Dan Robins, the theater flaunted an ornate staircase, three tear-drop chandeliers and giant curtains as the biggest facility of its kind between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Much of the theater, which closed in 1974, remains intact.

Councilman Greg Bartholomew, D-4th ward, says he is hoping this latest effort will have a greater chance at success because it is not focused on restoring the Robins as a theater, but will look at other options.

“Whatever the proposal is for the building, it must be unique,” Bartholomew said. “It cannot conflict with what happens at the Packard Music Hall, because the city already subsidizes it.”

Holmes emphasizes this new initiative is at a very early stage.

“It could be a student center, a brewery, a house of blues,” Holmes said. “It is what the community wants.”

Franklin said he is glad the project is still being actively pursued.