By Amanda Nicholson
The Marietta Times
Though renovations are still ongoing at the historic Peoples Bank Theatre, a first set of performances were held Friday to coincide with the first Merchants and Artist Walk of the year.
After more than a decade of planning, fundraising and initial renovations, the building is still mostly bare bones, where onlookers can see the original brick work and partially missing tile floor. Still, Hunt Brawley, developmental director for the Hippodrome/Colony Historical Theatre Association, said having a formal performance lends an idea as to what the theater can one day be.
“We’ve actually had a couple of acts on stage informally,” he said. “(Friday’s show) was certainly an amazing representation of what could happen. (The performers are) just so dynamite, it’s such an amazing effect. It’s a real demonstration of what can happen when you have some really good people up here. It was just really, really slick.”
Brawley said restoring the Putnam Street theater, formerly both the Colony and Hippodrome, gives Marietta an added bonus.
“This block is probably still one of the most vacant in Marietta,” he said. “We’re trying to be a part of the downtown and help resurrect the downtown. The Merchants and Artist Walk is a focal point. We want to be sort of an anchor (for entertainment).”
Musician RJ Cowdery, who performed Friday night along with Don Dixon and Todd Burge, said the theater provides a great opportunity for Marietta.
“I took a tour here, maybe four years ago, and it wasn’t near this (complete),” he said. “I can’t wait to come back and see it finished. It’s a really cool place.”
Brawley said a lot of work has been done on getting the theater repaired, including rebuilding the stairways that lead to the balcony and stripping unstable plaster from all surfaces it once covered. All of the old seats have been taken out and new ones have been ordered, but not installed.
“We’re trying to take it back as close to 1919 as we can,” he said.
Brawley said the project is going to enter its final phase where all new seats will be installed and walls painted. The old brick work will probably be covered again and the broken tiles in the entryway repaired.
Dixon said even not fully restored, the theater is one of the better ones he’s performed in.
“I’ve played in historical, restored theaters all across the country,” he said. “It’s totally on the right track. The feeling in these old theaters is just fantastic…This is as close to any of them. Actually I think it’s better than most. It’s lovely.”
Brawley said other events to go with the Merchants and Artist Walks will most likely happen at the site.
“We’re going to try to do something (for every walk),” he said. “In June, I think it might be a kid’s activity.”
In the meantime, he said the wait is on for some funding to get the final phase of construction for the theater under way, which involves a tax credit.
“The target date to get started is Aug. 15,” he said. “Our construction schedule is about 10 months, so if we get started by Aug. 15, we’re looking at May 15, 2015.”
The current cost of the renovations has been $2 million. Brawley said the rest of the restoration will take about $5.5 million, bringing the project total to $7.5 million, which he said is less expensive than trying to build a new theater like the Colony, which could cost at least double the project total.
Some of the money for renovations has come from the state, donations and from Peoples Bank, which helped prompt the name change of the theater from the Colony to the Peoples Bank Theatre.
Brawley said the goal is to get people accustomed to visiting downtown Marietta to see art and performances.
“We want to create an artist district,” he said. “Hopefully people get used to coming downtown to see entertainment.”