The city may get its movie theater back now that plans are in the works to construct a new theater building adjacent to the existing site. However, a reopening date remains in limbo.
The Princess Theater caught fire on Green Beer Day in March 2014 after an ice machine malfunctioned, with the building suffering significant smoke damage. It has been closed ever since.
Earlier this month, developers submitted plans to build a new four-story structure adjacent to the Princess building on 10 N. Beech St. Plans also called for the historic facade of the original theater to be kept, to use as kind of an entryway to the new building, according to documents submitted to the Historic Architectural and Preservation Commission. However, the plans are not final, and no decision has been made yet about what form the new theater building would take.
The design included “a complete renovation of the theater with an attempt to re-create a historic entry area that was currently covered …. the HAPC offered feedback and suggestions for the architect to consider, one of which was adding a third floor addition to the theater building, rather than having a four-story addition next to a two-story,” said Planner Sam Perry in his staff report on the meeting.
City Council and the HAPC held a joint work session earlier this week, outlining goals for the year and briefly discussing the Princess project.
“We pointed out (the plans) really did not go along with the guidelines of the historic district. You could feel a a certain tension in the room about this … we suggested that everything behind the lobby and the facade of the Princess theater is not historic anymore. You could tear it all out, and have new construction of the building with three stories,” said Robert Benson, the vice chair of the HAPC.
Matt Rodbro, one of the owners of the Princess, said it is “far too early to tell” when the theater might reopen, but reopening is still the goal.
“We are continuing to work toward some kind of plan that will be acceptable to the city,” he said.
The Princess Theater closed Nov. 25, 2012, after its then-owner, Alliance Entertainment, sold 25 of 26 theaters to Regal Cinemas, but Regal did not want Oxford’s theater because it was smaller than the others in the sale. The theater underwent renovations, reopening in late 2013 until the fire the following March.
Fans of the theater lamented the closing on the theater’s Facebook page. Oxford resident Daniel Fairbanks posted, “A town without a movie theatre is a sad town indeed.”