YNDC Buys Foster Theater, Weighs Options for New Use

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Determining a new purpose for a former adult theater on the South Side likely will be a lengthy process, said the executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., the building’s new owner. 

YNDC acquired the Foster Theater property at 2504 Glenwood Ave. on June 9, according to Mahoning County records. 

“This is going to be a fairly long process to figure out what to do with it,” said Ian Beniston. “It’s going to take time.” 

YNDC paid $99,999 to buy the shuttered theater from Delores Barber of Youngstown, Beniston said, and received the keys Monday afternoon. The sale price was more than double the last appraised value of the property – $43,050, in 2017 – but he considered removing the property as a venue for X-rated movies “very important.”  

The theater was built in 1938 and reflected “very much of a modern style in terms of the sleek façade on it and all of the materials in the theater itself,” said Bill Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. 

“At that time, the Fosterville neighborhood was at its peak and you had a thriving commercial district along Glenwood Avenue,” Lawson said. “The theater was an important addition to all that.” 

Fortunes changed and the neighborhood declined over the next 30-plus years. In the early 1970s, the theater switched from showing mainstream first-run films to X-rated films. The theater’s use as a venue for adult films was “not something that we saw as productive,” Beniston said. 

In recent years, YNDC has renovated other commercial properties along the Glenwood Avenue corridor and residential properties in the adjacent neighborhoods. This summer, it will begin work on a commercial plaza at 2915 Glenwood.

“This is something that we’ve been thinking about for a long time,” he said. “It’s an incremental step in our ongoing work along Glenwood Avenue.”

The first piece of business is to determine whether there are any immediate repairs needed to stabilize the theater building, he said. He did not know if there has been “any significant investment” in the theater since it opened and it likely has “a lot of deferred maintenance.” 

YNDC also will begin soliciting feedback from community members, neighbors and stakeholders as the organization determines a “sustainable, long-term reuse” for the property, he said. 

Once renovated, YNDC wants the property to be “sustainable as a facility,” and not be “reliant on grant funding long term.” The intent is to prepare it for a reuse that people can have pride in as opposed to serving as “another sign of decline.” 

At this point, there are no plans to demolish the building, he said. In addition to the single-screen theater space, which seats more than 500, there are commercial storefronts on the north and south sides of the building. 

“It may not be a theater,” he added. 

Lawson called YNDC’s acquisition of the property “a major move in the right direction.” After renovation, the building could become “very much a part of the community” around it and serve as a venue for entertainment, culture, enrichment and community meetings.  

“That makes it an important part of the future neighborhood, much as it was an important part when it was built,” he said. 

Buying the building was important to YNDC, Beniston said.

“Now we have our work cut out for us.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.