Group Aims to Purchase, Reopen Main Street Theater

COLUMBIANA, Ohio – The owner of Main Street Theater has permanently closed the venue, but a group has been formed with a goal of raising $1.5 million to purchase and renovate the building, and then reopen it as a community culture and arts center.

The Columbiana Cultural Collective was launched last month and is putting together a fundraising plan to buy the theater on the town circle from its owners, Don and Dawn Arthurs.

The Arthurs purchased the 71-year-old former movie theater in 2007 and spent about $1 million to restore it, reopening it in 2009. The former Columbiana Cinema was renamed Main Street Theater and became the home of Crown Theater Co. It was also used for movies and concerts.

The 400-seat theater closed in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic started. The monthly rent payments from Crown Theater also stopped at that time.

Arthurs, who is a founding member of Crown Theater Co., informed the Crown board late last year that he could no longer afford to maintain the building as a theater and intended to repurpose it. He considered alternative uses, everything from converting it to a bowling alley or storage units to renting it out as a storefront. But his first choice was always for it to remain as a theater.

Arthurs grew up in the Columbiana area. In an interview when he first opened the theater, he talked of seeing movies there as a youth.

He would go on to become a founder of Turning Technologies, a digital technology company in Youngstown. Today, he is the owner/operator of Arthurs Innovations LLC and founder of Back to Dust Studios.

“Dawn and I have been keeping the arts alive in Columbiana for nearly 15 years now along with the help of some amazing and hard working volunteers,” Arthurs said in a statement. “With COVID shutting down entertainment, it has made us have to make some tough decisions. We have realized, to overcome the challenges that life with COVID presents to the entertainment world, the theater would be best served with a community backed group with fresh ideas and ambition at the helm.” 

Erich Offenburg is spearheading the Columbiana Cultural Collective’s effort to purchase the theater. He is the artistic director of Crown Theater Co. and also the executive director of Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce.

He noted that the Collective is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and is under the auspices of the Columbiana Tourism Bureau. To make a tax-deductible donation to the project, contact the bureau.

Erich Offenburg, artistic director of the Crown Theater Co.

Offenburg said that Arthurs – who is also the manager of the building – has invested his money and heart into the theater building. When Offenburg approached him months ago to see if Crown could re-enter a rental agreement despite being unable to present shows, Arthurs said expenses were piling up and it would not be enough.

“The utility bills alone are outrageous,” Offenburg said. “[Arthurs] said he wanted to keep it a theater but couldn’t do it alone and wanted to pass the torch.”

Offenburg worked with the Columbiana Progress Committee and City Manager Lance Willard to mount a drive to purchase the theater and a house behind it that is part of the property, make improvements so that it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act – including the installation of an elevator – and reopen it as an arts center with Crown Theater as the primary tenant.

Columbiana has undergone a metamorphosis in the last five or 10 years, emerging as charming and walkable city with a vibrant downtown that features antique stores, as well as the new Firestone Farms housing, golf and entertainment development. Other attractions in the city include Das Dutch Village Hotel, shops and restaurant; Birdfish Brewing Co.; and Firestone Park and pool.

The village has 50 housing starts underway this year alone, Offenburg said.

A feather in Columbiana’s cap came in 2019 when Reader’s Digest named the village The Nicest Place in America. Offenburg noted that the honor stemmed from Crown Theater and its inclusion of developmentally disabled actors.

Saving the theater and expanding its role in the burgeoning city was mandatory, Offenburg said.

“It’s an anchor for downtown,” he said. “And there are so many people here with memories of this place. It’s priceless.”

Offenburg recalled a discussion he had with a cast member in “Mary Poppins,” one of the last shows he directed at the theater. Offenburg asked the actor if he had any memories of “Mary Poppins.” The director replied that he first saw the film version when he took [the woman who would become his wife] to see it on their first date – at the old Columbiana Cinema.

Offenburg’s own attachment to the theater is even deeper.

“The last ‘show’ on this stage was my wedding,” he said. Offenburg and his wife, Tricia, were married on the theater’s stage last summer.

“It’s the longest-running show in the theater’s history!” he said, referring to his marriage. Tricia Offenburg is the executive secretary of the Columbiana Tourism Bureau.

The $1.5 million that the Columbiana Cultural Collective seeks to raise will cover the sales price of the real estate – $1.3 million – with $200,000 left over for renovations. With the exception of the ADA-compliance work, the theater is in excellent condition.

Offenburg plans to operate the building as a community performing arts center. While Crown Theater would be the home tenant and maintain its offices in the building, he would also book dance, music, art and film. “We’re planning to have an event every weekend,” he said.

Plans call for turning an unused garage space into a small blackbox performance and rehearsal space. It would give Crown a place to rehearse its shows and thereby free up the stage and auditorium for other performances, which could include touring artists.

“We’re also trying to get a liquor license,” Offenburg said.

Lance Willard, Columbiana’s city manager, said the village understands the importance of keeping the theater and wants to see rapid action on raising the money.

“We’re blessed to have it,” Willard said. “We’ve been working on our downtown for the last several years to make it vibrant and we’ve done some out-of-the-box things.“

He cited the implementation of a Designated Outdoor Drinking Area, or DORA, which allows for the consumption of alcohol at festivals. Other additions include the bistro lights along Main Street, closing a downtown alley and making it a pedestrian area and bringing in food trucks

“But the theater is an anchor and most cities are not as blessed as we are,” Willard continued. “The Arthurs renovated it and it is ready to go. We cannot let that theater not keep going for generations.”

Willard intends to facilitate the project “by putting together the right people to make it happen.”
He is currently contacting potential donors, as well as political leaders and foundations to inquire about grants.

The Columbiana Cultural Collective will take its efforts to the public in the near future, Willard said. He asks that potential donors contact the group through the tourism bureau.

Pictured at top: The Columbiana Cultural Collective was launched last month and is putting together a fundraising plan to buy the Main Street Theater located on the town circle.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.