Theatre renovation gets underway

Hopes are to have it completed by early 2020

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple A two-year renovation project is underway at the Robins Theatre, a downtown Warren theater that has been empty since the mid-1970s.

WARREN — On a morning when it was colder inside the Robins Theatre than it was on the snow-covered streets outside, the new owner detailed how he plans to heat up the venue with a multi-phase renovation effort.

Mark Marvin, president of the Downtown Development Group LCC, announced what he described as an aggressive strategy to revitalize the theater at 160 E. Market St., which has been empty since the mid-1970s, in hopes of completing the project by early 2020, possibly late 2019.

“We’re going to try to return this very close to what it originally looked like,” said Marvin, who purchased the building in December for $375,000 from Heritage Galleria Ltd.

Sunrise Entertainment will operate the theater once it’s completed, and Sunrise cofounder Ken Haidaris said they will host up to 200 events per year, from nationally touring musicians and comedians to movies to local dance groups and performers.

The stage on which they plan to present national acts currently has a gaping hole, caused by a leaking atrium-style roof above it. The effects of decades of neglect can be seen everywhere, but Marvin said the guts of the building are solid.

“It’s quite an undertaking but not quite as bad as everybody thinks it is,” he said. “The structure is good.”

Phase one of the renovation — general cleanup and repairs to critical items — already is underway.

Marvin estimated the cost of the renovation between $5 million and $7 million at the time of purchase. They have applied for a $1 million grant from the state of Ohio that would be used exclusively for renovations. They also created a 501(c) 3 nonprofit group called Friends of the Robins Theatre that can accept tax-deductible contributions toward the project.

One way to collect those donations will be letting individuals and businesses donate to renovate the main floor seating. Donors will get a T-shirt and a certificate, and the seat they paid for will have a small plaque on it with their name. Specifics on the seat renovation sponsorships will be announced at a later date.

Waiting for those possible funding sources won’t slow progress on the project.

“I bought the building and planned the renovation with 100 percent of the funds coming from DDG,” he said.

Marvin said they plan to invite the public to volunteer to help remove the seats that are bolted to the floor so they can be sent out for painting and recovering. That will be part of phase two.

“We definitely want the community involved in the theater,” Marvin said. “We want them to feel it’s part of their community and want to come here.”

Major construction and work on the heating and air conditioning systems will begin after the seats have been removed and will take at least a year. Renovating and modernizing the stage comes next along with updating the seven dressing rooms under the theater, some of which are about the size of a walk-in closet.

“They’re going to be absolutely gorgeous,” Haidaris said. “Because Mark Marvin is involved and with his development expertise, everything he does is first class.”

Other changes will include the addition of a marquee out front that will be a modern-day LED system with a design that will echo the marquee that was there in the 1950s.

They also plan to open an exclusive lounge that will be called Kenny’s Players, a play on the name of the Kenley Players summer stock theater that called Packard Music Hall home from the late 1950s to late ’70s. Haidaris said those who purchase memberships to the lounge will have an opportunity to purchase tickets before they go on sale to the general public and enjoy other perks. Access to the lounge could be included as part of meet-and-greet packages for certain shows, and it would be open to the general public for some events as well.

Once the theater project is about six months from completion, Haidaris said he will start filling the entertainment schedule.

“I would not, could not have done this without Kenny and his expertise on the entertainment side,” Marvin said.

They still are working out the details, but Haidaris said the theater will be designed so portions can be closed off, making the 1,500-seat venue more accommodating for smaller shows. Tom Simpson, owner of The Kent Stage, has partnered with Sunrise Entertainment in the past and said he is looking forward to bringing shows to the Robins that are too big for his 600-seat theater.

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said the involvement of Marvin and Haidaris ensures that it will be “a quality project and the latest effort in the revitalization of downtown.”

Marvin has invested extensively in the downtown area, both in restaurant and retail spaces as well as upscale apartments and condominiums. A successful Robins Theatre would increase the value and potential of the properties around it.

“If we have a River Rock at the Amp, if we have a Robins Theatre (to bring people downtown), we have to create what keeps the people downtown,” Marvin said. “We can drive business their way and they can benefit as well.”