- Ed Richter Staff Writer
Middletown city officials are reviewing two proposals for the future use of a former downtown movie theater.
One proposal for the former Studio Theater, 1345 Central Ave., would be to create a regional entertainment destination that would include a bar and restaurant and an outdoor music and movie amphitheater. The project would be privately financed with various city incentives, according to the proposal.
The second proposal is to demolish the former theater and transform the space into a pocket park that would be owned and maintained by the city.
Middletown has been seeking developers for several city-owned properties in hopes they will be re-purposed for new business opportunities.
The buildings were acquired at no cost by the city — either by donation or forfeited to the state, according to City Manager Doug Adkins.
Studio Theatre was acquired by the city in 2009 and is valued at $71,120, according to the Butler County Auditor’s Office. The building sits on a 0.4364-acre lot and has more than 30,000 square feet of space.
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HISTORY: STUDIO THEATRE
1929: Opened as Strand Theater
1964: Building was remodeled and re-opened as Studio Theater. Its seating was reduced from 1,800 seats to 1,000 seats.
1984: Studio Theater closed.
2009: Studio Theater was acquired by the city of Middletown.
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Local investors that include John Langhorne, Ami Vitori, and Kevin Kimener are proposing a $1 million investment in a public/private collaboration to preserve the building and create a “vibrant downtown business with regional appeal.”
Adkins said the concept is to develop a pub/movie/music entertainment facility similar to JD Legends in Franklin or Bogarts in Cincinnati.
The city, he said, is working with the developers to explore the viability of the concept.
“I’d like to spend the $2,500 or whatever it is to have a structural engineer evaluate the building,” Adkins said, adding that there are “concerns with the structural integrity of part of the building.”
If the building isn’t viable, the city will demolish it, he said.
“If it is viable, the developer can look at it and say, ‘I can invest my money here because the building is still solid,” Adkins said.
The city is soliciting bids from engineering companies and expects to make a selection in the next 30 days or so, according to Jennifer Ekey, Middletown’s economic development director.
Langhorne said the group is prepared to contribute a minimum of 50 percent equity in the venture. He said they would look for whatever financing is made available through different government agencies, grant programs, public-private partnerships, as well as bank financing.
He also said the group has adequate financial resources to ensure a timely completion of the project, which could happen in early- to mid-2018.
In less than a year, Kimener and Vitori have invested more than $500,000 to redevelop and remodel the 40,000-square-foot former TV Middletown building, now called Torchlight Pass. That building now houses a yoga studio and salon, with a restaurant expected to open soon. The building should be 100 percent utilized by the middle of this year, according to the developers.
The proposal for a pocket park came from Chad Oberson, of Oberson’s Nursery and Landscaping Inc. in Fairfield. The pocket park, he said, would be similar to previous projects the company has completed such as Marcum Park in Hamilton, Summit Park in Blue Ash, and multiple projects for Miami University’s Hamilton and Oxford campuses.
Oberson estimated the new park would cost the city about $383,500, plus the costs of any environmental abatement required. The project, he said, would take about 120 days to complete. The city would continue to own and maintain the property.
“I see this old theater as a great place for a community pocket park. I am not asking to own this park. I am wanting to knock down this building and in its place put a park. I feel that in the long term this park will help bring future business to areas around the park,” Oberson said in his proposal.
He also said these types of green spaces attract people to the center of a city.