Group holds brainstorming workshop on Elba Theatre restoration project

(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
Updated: Mar. 23, 2018 at 7:04 PM CDT
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(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

ELBA, AL (WSFA) - The money isn't rolling in yet to restore the Elba Theatre to its former glory, but the agency behind the project is working to narrow down where it could come from.

Restoration 154 purchased the venue in 2011 and have worked since then to chip away at the over $800,000 budget to get the venue reopened.

"It was a lot bigger than any of us even thought about it being," said Philip Box, Founder of Restoration 154.

Years later, and a $50,000 gr ant secured along with local donations in the bank account, they're still not in a position to start the project.

Restoration 154 partnered with the Fox Theatre Institute, out of Atlanta, for Friday's day long workshop with a main goal of brainstorming ideas to secure funding.

The Fox Theatre Institute is a non-profit that offers historic preservation expertise, consultation, and education. They typically work in Georgia, but this is the first time they've worked with a project out of the state. The agency worked to bring people together for the workshop who could be beneficial in identifying ways to raise money.

"We're here in Elba to provide a resource team," said Fox Theatre Institute DIrector Leigh Burns. "We gathered people from the Alabama Council of the Arts, the Alabama Historical Commission."

About 10 to 15 agencies attended the session.

"Hopefully as we build those relationships and work together a lot of different funding options and thinking outside the box will help us reach those goals quickly," said Box.

Included in the workshop packet was a list already started of public, private, and corporate gr ant options for funding.

"Who can you identify at the state level through federal pass through funding to say, 'Yes, we're going to invest in this project'?" said Burns.

Although the total cost of the project is over $800,000, Box says they're really pushing to get the first $300,000 of the goal so work can begin on phase one of the project. That phase includes renovations to make the venue operational.

"The first phase will get us in the building – get things going there as far as local events and shows and different things." said Burns.

That will also help bring in money for the project from renting costs. Restoration 154 says the project isn't just about giving new life to the theatre, but could serve as an economic boost to the downtown area.

Billy Wilson owns Southern Style by Design in downtown Elba. He says foot traffic at his store has decreased drastically since traffic was rerouted out of downtown because of the Highway 84 Bypass. He says the theatre will create another draw for people to come to the area – catch a show – and shop.

"We're very excited about that coming back to Elba, "said Wilson. "Specifically for the foot traffic and to promote more commerce on the square. The square doesn't die out like most small towns. When you have something like the bypass go through your town or go around your town, it's usually a death sentence. I think the hopes are this will maybe stimulate some commerce on the square and keep us from having that same problem," said Wilson.

Right now, the city's only venue with a stage for performances is at Elba High School.

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