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State Theatre/Culpeper, VA

Culpeper Star-Exponent (Virginia)

January 29, 2011 Saturday

STATE AND REGIONAL NEWS

State Theatre breaks ground

By Allison Brophy Champion, Culpeper Star-Exponent, Va.

Jan. 29–An enthusiastic "hip, hip, hooray" rang out at the conclusion of Friday’s groundbreaking of the State Theatre project on Main Street. And that phrase about summed up the mood of 100-plus people who stood in the cold in support of the long-anticipated rehab.

"Nearly seven years ago we started this process, and we figured it would take a couple years and cost a million bucks," said Tad Loving, vice chairman of the State Theatre Foundation board.

"Seven years later and nearly that many more million dollars, we are ready to put a stake in the ground. We are really excited to be here at this point in time."

Estimated to cost $8.5 million, restoration and expansion of the long-vacant movie house will return the circa 1938 facility to its art deco glory days while transforming it into the town’s first cultural arts center.

"A little overwhelmed," said Raven Yates, STF director when asked how she was feeling. "But I’m really excited to be at this point. My job starts now."

If ever there were a perfect time to begin the project, she added, that time is now — recession and all.

Not only was the foundation able to take advantage of lower construction costs, but the massive construction job will stimulate the local economy, Yates said.

"We were at the point that we needed to start," she added. "We needed to do something."

STF board member Don Haight Jr. of Culpeper said the project was just the economic shot in the arm the community needed. The finished product will also do a lot for cultural diversity in the area, he said.

"I couldn’t be happier," Haight said. "This is the first major step."

Lynchburg-based C.L. Lewis was recently selected contractor; the estimated timeline has the 700-seat theater opening in the fall of 2012.

Of the $8.5 million budget, the STF has raised about $2.3 million in cash and pledges. Another $3.2 million in historic renovation tax credits will fund the project, leaving $1 million left to raise.

"The project is not complete," Loving said. "We are the point where we can build the building. Now, we’ve got to make it a theater."

To that end, the foundation launched its "1,000 for $1,000" campaign Friday, asking local folks to be part of the project for as little as a $25 monthly contribution for three years.

"When you consider all the good things the State Theatre will bring to the regional economy for years to come, it’s hard to come up with a better example of a community-based, community-supported stimulus project," Loving said.

Once open, the theater will be accessible to the entire community, he added, with an average ticket price of about $20.

The facility will host concerts, children’s events, community theater, film festivals, professional stage productions and more.

Loving hopes the opening of the State Theatre won’t change Culpeper too much. "I hope it will make the quality of life better," he said.

Employees from the Library of Congress Packard Campus on Mount Pony came out in force in support of the project.

"As a resident of the town, I am looking forward to having a community center," said Rob Stone, curator of the moving images section.

"It’s something the town can use and needs," added George Willeman, nitrate vault manager at the Packard Campus.

History

Culpeper’s State Theatre originally opened in 1938 as a Pitts Theater — one of 30 movie houses built by Virginia Sen. Benjamin Pitts. It was renamed the State in 1973 and operated as such until 1993, when its doors closed to the public.

That’s when the late Marion Pettie, leader of a secret society, The Finders, purchased it. Little is known about what happened in the theater during the decade or more it was owned by Pettie.

Local developer and Culpeper native Greg Yates bought the theater from The Finders in 2004 for $300,000 and later donated it to the nonprofit foundation led by his sister.

Want to go?

Can’t wait for the State Theatre to open? The STF hosts a taste of what’s to come March 12 at 8 p.m. in the Hazel River Armory with musical guest Paul Reisler and A Thousand Questions. Tickets will be available online and at the Frenchman’s Corner for $20. Call 727-7979.

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