Curtain to Rise Again at ‘Magnificent’ Robins Theatre

WARREN, Ohio – Mark Marvin approached Ken Haidaris roughly a year ago about joining him in his effort to revitalize the Robins Theatre in the downtown.

It took all of three seconds for Haidaris to get on board, the businessmen said Tuesday.

Joined by other community leaders, Marvin, president of Downtown Development Group, and Haidaris, president of Sunrise Entertainment, presented their plans for the property.

During a news conference at the venue, Marvin outlined a nine-phase timeline that culminates in an opening night two years hence. The theater, built in 1922, closed in 1974.

Downtown Development Group purchased the building last year.

“This place is going to be magnificent. A lot of times people announce projects that don’t get done. This project will get done,” a confident Haidaris declared.

Downtown Development Group, which is rehabilitating and repurposing other downtown properties, will act as primary contractor and bring in subcontractors as needed, while Sunrise Entertainment will book acts for the venue.

“This is the linchpin to downtown, for our purposes anyways,” Marvin said. Sunrise Entertainment has been doing a “phenomenal job” with its River Rock at the Amp series in the summer, “so it was a natural partnership for us.”

General cleanup and repairs to critical items have begun, and in a month all of the 1,400-plus seats in the theater will be removed and refurbished, according to the project timeline. Once the seats are removed, overall renovation will begin.

Other work will include plumbing, repair of the electrical and heating/ventilation/cooling systems, renovations to the stage and dressing rooms, and installation of new lighting and sound systems.

Plans call for installation of a triangulated marquee, similar to the appearance of the building in the 1950s, but with modern light-emitting diode – or LED — lighting.

Marvin put the overall cost of the project at between $5 million and $7 million.

“We have quite an undertaking but it’s not quite as bad as everybody thinks it is. The guts of this place are pretty good. The structure is fantastic,” he said.

“There’s great bones to work with,” affirmed Bob Felix, project manager for Downtown Development Group.

About 70% of the interior “just needs to be scraped and repainted,” Felix said. “We have to worry about the other 30%,” he added.

Workers filled two large rolloff dumpsters with dirt and other debris to prepare the venue for yesterday’s news conference. Workers also discovered three rooms – a walk-in cooler and two bathrooms – that had been blocked, he reported.

Haidaris wants to book more than 200 dates annually at the venue, he said, with performers who range from comedians and major music acts to art and dance shows. The idea is to get foot traffic downtown to patronize restaurants and shops.

“Ten years ago, nobody believed that people would come to downtown Warren for entertainment,” said Haidaris, who also operates Sunrise Inn. Sunrise’s successful River Rock at the Amp series proved that contention wrong, and the Robins Theatre “will be an extension of that,” he said.

“I really think this will be the linchpin to getting the downtown rolling again,” Marvin reiterated.

The renovation will restore the ability of the theater to show cinematic productions, or movies, Marvin added.

“This facility was ahead of its time in the day,” he said. “It could actually switch from a live production to a cinematic production in under 24 hours. Obviously with today’s technology, it won’t take us anywhere near that long.”

Plans call for showing genre films or holiday-themed movies around Christmas and Halloween, he said.

Modern digital format projectors will be installed and the original projectors – still stationed in the projection room — will be refurbished and put on display.

Other features will include creating the Kenny Players Club, an exclusive club with a lounge. The name is a play on Warren’s former Kenley Players.

Funds for the rehabilitation primarily will come from Marvin’s company and Sunrise Entertainment. The developers are seeking state capital funds and plan to sell sponsorships for seats in the theater, which will feature plaques with the name of the donors. A 501(c)3, Friends of Robins Theatre, has been established to support the renovation project, Haidaris said.

The project will not rely on any funding from the city, Marvin added.

“This is such a beautiful facility,” Mayor Doug Franklin said. For the last several years, Warren has worked tirelessly to draw foot traffic downtown. “This is going to be the final phase in making sure that effort comes to fruition,” he said.

“You’d never think it’s this big in here from the front,” Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka remarked.

Polivka, who said his grandfather ran the projector at the theater, recalled hearing stories about the Robins from his father.

“So I’ve got a little bit of history here. I’d like to see it come back to life,” he said.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.