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What will attract visitors to the region?

Colony Theatre among those expected to play a role in the future

April 2, 2012
By Kevin Pierson - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

For years Fenton Art Glass in Williamstown and the Middleton Doll Factory in Belpre were staples of the Mid-Ohio Valley tourism industry.

That's no longer the case, as Fenton remains in business but has discontinued its traditional glass making operation and Middleton closed in March 2010, but area officials say there are still plenty of attractions to draw tourists to the area.

One not yet open but coming soon is the Colony Theatre, located at 222 Putnam St., Marietta. The theater has been undergoing an massive restoration for years.

Article Photos

KEVIN PIERSON The Marietta Times
Hunt Brawley, director of development for the Hippodrome/Colony Historical Theatre Association, displays one of the old film projectors in the theater, located at 222 Putnam St., Marietta. The theater is expected to be one of the big tourism draws for the area in the future.

"That will be a magnificent addition to the community that will be a draw because of its size," said Terry Tamburini, executive director of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority. "You never replace things like Fenton and Middleton, but that's going to be a step in the right direction."

The Colony Theatre has been undergoing substantial renovations since 2004, when a nonprofit group was formed dedicated to its restoration.

Once completed, the Colony is expected to have roughly 1,000 seats and hold 100 events a year ranging from plays and musicals to weddings and dance groups.

Fact Box


A longtime businessman in the Marietta community, Dan Stephan found himself in charge of a historic treasure 25 years ago.

Owning and operating Peoples News, Stephan purchased the adjacent building in 1987 with the idea of making a parking lot.

"I just couldn't bring myself to tear it down," Stephan said.

That building, the Colony Theatre, has become one of Marietta's most talked about treasures, and is expected to be a big part of the future of tourism in the area.

In 2004, Stephan donated the theater to a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the building, which opened in 1919.

Q: What has been your involvement in the Colony Theatre restoration?

A: I've been chairman of the board since the inception, which was in 2004. I'm still chairman of the board.

Q: What all has gone into restoring the Colony?

A: I kept up part of it. In the time I owned it, I repaired some roofs. Then the first big project we had, we got a grant from then-Senator (Mike) DeWine. He got us a grant from Save America's Treasures to put a new roof on, which we did. That was close to $200,000. There was no heat in it. The electrical, its still there, but it all needs to be replaced.

The building has been sitting empty with no heat in it. That caused deterioration of the walls and ceilings and stuff. We had two big projects after that.

We spent a ton of money on design and architectural work and engineering work that people have donated money in town for. That's an expensive proposition because there were no plans or anything of the building. It all had to be started from scratch.

We've done two major projects that we got grants for and donations. We replaced steps in the front lobby. They had been torn out previously in the 1950s, or 1949, they remodeled it. Before then it was called the Hippodrome Theatre. They changed the name in 1949 to the Colony Theatre. They had a big contest to name it. They tore out part of the steps going up to the lobby to expand the concession stand. So we replaced those steps plus we remodeled the downstairs bathrooms.

The other big project that was done has been asbestos removal. We got a grant from the state for that. It was about a $400,000 project to clean all the asbestos out of it. When that was built, asbestos was the thing to do because it was fire retardant. It was in the plaster and in the caulking and every place. That's all been done and the building is essentially asbestos free now.

We've also done restoration of the asbestos fire curtain, which we discovered many years after we were in there was hanging above the stage. It's a beautiful, painted fire curtain. It was made of asbestos, so we had to have that all sealed and treated.

Q: What are some of the ways you think the Colony can help tourism in Marietta and the Mid-Ohio Valley?

A: I've been around Marietta all my life. The tourist business has always been good. The biggest complaint I always heard was, well, there's nothing to do in the evening unless you want to go down to a bar or something.

We think that when we get the theater operational and have a good program that appeals to all segments of the population that we will have an attraction that will not only bring people that come on their own to Marietta, but also I think bus tours and things like that.

With the Mid-Ohio Valley Players Theatre right across the street, and now the Adelphia and some of those kind of places, we could essentially have like a mini-Cleveland playhouse square. You have a group of performing arts places that would make a viable downtown attraction that would go a long way to entice tourists to spend more time.

Q: What are some unique features about the Colony you think people aren't aware of?

A: The first thing is the size of it and the size of the stage. When it was originally built it was built for live performances. At that time, the touring companies would travel around from town to town and present live performances.

Originally there were 1,100 or 1,200 seats in that theatre. The new projections will have just under 1,000. Looking at it from the front it fools you, the size of the auditorium.

I think that is one of the unique features of it because there's no place in the region of that size. You can have a high school gym or auditorium, but you don't have all the amenities of a theater, the acoustics and the sound system. That kind of lighting, all that creates the ambiance of the theater experience.

Kevin Pierson conducted this interview.

Dan Stephan

Age: 75.

Residence: Williamstown.

Family: Wife Rita, three sons.

Education: Marietta High School and Marietta College graduate.

Experience: Owned the Colony Theatre from 1987 to 2004. Family has owned Peoples News since 1929.

Renovation to the theater has taken some time, but the Colony could open within a year.

"I think their opening, hopefully early in 2013, is going to be a big deal for downtown Marietta and Putnam Street. I look forward to that. I think it's definitely going to be part of what helps build an entertainment port in our area," said Jeri Knowlton, executive director of the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

An entertainment district is well within the realm of possibility, with the Mid-Ohio Valley Players Theatre as well as the Adelphia music hall already in Marietta, noted Hunt Brawley, director of development for the Hippodrome/Colony Historical Theatre Association.

"With the Colony Theatre of 1,000 seats right across from the MOVP with about 300 seats you really have different programming opportunities and something that could work very well together," Brawley said.

Located midway between Second Street and Third Street, the Colony and MOVP theaters also provide another potential for the outlet of energy from Front Street activities.

"You really have a complete downtown and something that is quite vibrant, really right up into the college campus," Brawley said. "(The Colony) can do amazing things. The statistic we throw around a lot is that for every dollar you would spend on a theater event you probably spend 2.8 dollars in the community."

That type of investment is a welcome addition to an economy that's been struggling, officials said.

Another big draw for the area is a result not of what's being added to the Mid-Ohio Valley, but what's already here.

Wayne National Forest is another popular target for tourists as it offers recreational activities ranging from boating and camping to horseback riding and hiking.

"On and on the list goes with what those opportunities are. Fishing, hunting, we have a ton of opportunities with the natural resources we have available to us," Knowlton said.

Wayne National Forest also offers a scenic byway with covered bridges on Ohio 26. That route is popular with motorcycle riders and provides another outlet for recreation, said Gary Chancey, public affairs officer for Wayne National Forest.

Leith Run Recreation Center is a popular draw for its versatility in the forest.

"It's one of our popular attractions in the Wayne National Forest because it's multipurpose. You can go fishing there. You can camp. There are lots of opportunities there," Chancey said.

Kinderhook horse trails is another potential area for recreation and opens April 15 to horse riders, mountain bike riders and hikers.

Last year, a boat launch facility was added just outside New Matamoras.

"We encourage folks to take a look at local resources before venturing out on a long trip," Chancey said.

Along with standard fairs and festivals like the Riverfront Roar, Sternwheel Festival and Washington County Fair, there are more opportunities for recreation than ever before, officials said.

"I think we have an array of things we can pursue," Tamburini said.

Mid-Ohio Valley attractions

The Colony Theatre - set to open sometime possibly within a year, this theater could be a catalyst for downtown Marietta.

Wayne National Forest - outdoor activities are a popular draw. With activities ranging from boating, fishing and hiking to horse back riding, the Wayne National Forest is another big draw.

Fairs and festivals - events like the Riverfront Roar, Washington County Fair and Sternwheel Festival continue to be popular draws for tourists.



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