The former theater has been on borrowed time since 2009, when it was originally scheduled to be demolished before a lack of funds postponed it. City officials said the building was deemed inappropriate to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and cleared for demolition in 2009 by the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office.
MUST SEE:PHOTOS: See inside the former Studio Theater in Middletown
According to local historian Sam Ashworth, the downtown theater opened as the Strand Theater in 1929 with 1,800 seats and closed in 1959. It was remodeled and reopened July 16, 1964 as the Studio Theater with seating capacity reduced to 1,000 seats. The theater closed on April 24, 1984, but the office space on the second floor continued to be occupied until 1988. The building been vacant since.
City officials said in late January that this was the last effort to try and redevelop the building. However, officials said if there were no viable proposals in this round, demolition would begin on the building, which has strong emotional ties for many in the community. The building, which is now gutted and deteriorating, has created water infiltration issues with adjoining structures.
Last month, this news outlet went inside the building and found exposed parts of ceiling, debris and cracked walls are part of the 90-year-old structures. One can still recognize the ticket booth and curtain-covered screen, and the rest provides some hauntingly beautiful views.
Mike Robinette, owner of Liberty Spirits next door, said he “was not surprised the city didn’t get a proposal.”
“You could probably build a new structure for much less,” he said. “I think the city made more than a conscientious effort to find someone to develop it.”
Robinette said leaving the building vacant for so long caused it to have more problems. He said if a vacant building is not heated or maintained properly, it will deteriorate rapidly.
Jennifer Ekey, city economic development director, told this news outlet the price tag to redevelop the building could reach $5 million. She said the city acquired the title to the 30,000-square-foot Studio Theater property in 2014.
Ekey said that last spring the city received two responses to redevelop the Studio and only one proposal was viable. Two engineering firms performed assessments of the structure and its potential for redevelopment which would be in the range of $3 million to $5 million. She said one bidder did not meet the minimum financial requirements, and the other withdrew its proposal after the engineering reports came out.