Colonnade Theater / Millersburg, PA

Patriot News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)

January 13, 2011 Thursday


Staging a comeback

By Matt Miller, The Patriot-News

Armed with $1.5 million from the state and Dauphin County, a nonprofit performing arts group is preparing to flick the lights back on at Millersburg’s venerable Colonnade Theater.

The theater, closed since 2000, won’t just show talkies after a renovation that the Twin Valley Players expect to complete by late 2012.

Movies will again roll at the theater, but it also will be reborn as a more eclectic cultural hub for the county’s northern reaches, said Todd Hoover, the group’s treasurer.

Patrons whom the players expect to attract to the films, live performances and educational programs at the Center Street venue should help boost the borough’s struggling commercial core, he said.

"The buzz is already going on … about how this could change downtown Millersburg," Hoover told county commissioners Wednesday.

That will require mixing the old with the cutting-edge new.

When movies play again, they’ll be digital, Hoover said. The playbill will sport of mix of new and classic films. A stage — a fixture when the theater opened in 1919 — will be rebuilt for live performances.

The theater’s facade, including the Art Deco marquee, will be restored to its early 20th-century appearance.

Artifacts from the theater’s history will be preserved and displayed, if not returned to service, Hoover said.

He said the renovation package prices out at $1.7 million.

Of the public money committed so far, $750,000 comes from a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Grant secured by the county redevelopment authority with support from state Rep. Sue Helm, R-Susquehanna Twp.

County commissioners have promised to match the state cash. Hoover said private donors have made tentative pledges that are expected to bridge the final funding gap.

Commission Chairman Jeff Haste said he’s long been a fan of the theater revival plan. He admitted, though, that he doubted if the cash to make it happen would materialize.

The Twin Valley Players have been working on the project since Marvin and Doris Troutman, owners of the Cinema Center theater chain, donated the building to them in 2008.

"It’s a great project," Haste said. "It will be a boon to Millersburg. A lot of things could open off of this."

Hoover said his 41-year-old organization expects the revamped theater will draw customers not only for itself but for nearby Millersburg businesses.

"There are some empty shops in that section of town. Just the nature of this project will get people going by," he said.

Commissioner Mike Pries praised the players for re-using a unique existing building instead of devouring open space with a new one.

The lone word of caution came from Commissioner George Hartwick III.

He said he backs the project but wants to ensure there will be enough cash coming in to keep the theater viable.

"It’s one thing to do the rehab, but I’d like to see a sustainability plan," Hartwick said. "We want to see this work."

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