Commonwealth Journal

May 16, 2014

Virginia Cinema project still alive

Special to the CJ
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

The Downtown Somerset Development Corporation (DSDC) is taking steps it hopes will lead to finding renovation money for the long-vacant Virginia Theater project.
The group is advertising for an architectural firm that can partner with the Lake Cumberland Area Development District (LCADD) in identifying possible grants that could bring the E. Mt. Vernon Street landmark back to use.
DSDC headed a fund raising effort a decade ago in hopes of putting the building to use. The effort raised almost enough money to purchase the property. Another $135,000 in state grant money was used to stabilize and secure the property until additional funds could be found.
Consultants have put the cost of renovating the theater somewhere between $1.5 and $2 million.
The group feels the theater has the potential to bring visitors to the downtown area at night and on weekends, which would enhance the viability of other businesses. It is also the centerpiece of an entire block of historic buildings.
Gib Gosser, DSDC’s executive director, says the latest plan calls for selecting an architect who can help define how the building will be used and to help create a business plan, all of which is needed before funding sources can be identified.
Both the architect and LCADD will work on a contingency basis, meaning they won’t be paid until they find funding.
Gosser says one of the biggest challenges the group has faced through the decade-old process is identifying how it will be used. He says it probably isn’t financially feasible to only show movies. Most of the programming would come from local groups and traveling shows presenting on-stage productions.
He says his agency will have to determine who those users might be, what amenities they need and the cost/revenue associated with such.
DSDC is currently advertising for architectural firms to submit their qualifications for the work. Those resumes will be accepted until May 27. A committee will determine which consultants best fit the project and will then interview candidates, hoping to select a firm by June 19.
The theater was built in 1922 by T.E. Jasper. His family continued to own the landmark, which closed in 1994, until DSDC purchased it in 2003.