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Twin Cities Talk: Imagining the possibilities

STERLING – On Friday, I received word from City Manager Scott Shumard that a months-long project to develop a former downtown landmark was about to take a big step forward.

The council is set to vote tonight whether to loan $550,000 to the Greater Sterling Development Corp., so it can buy and develop the Sterling theater.

For as long as I've lived in Sterling, almost 3 years, the downtown theater has sat empty. Countless times, I've driven or walked by and seen the massive and impressive marquee with "Sterling" spelled out in dull, lightless bulbs and imagined what it would look like turned on.

On nights when I attended Fourth Fridays celebrations, the marquee and building remained the same – quiet, empty and unused.

In April 2011, I wrote an update on the status of the theater. At the time, the city's then-building and zoning coordinator Mike Wolber told me the it was condemned for occupation.

I attempted to reach owner Ralph White, unsuccessfully. Wolber and other officials also couldn't reach him about getting the building up to code.

“With the investment in the purchase, you would think they would want to make it habitable,” Wolber told me then. “Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for people not to respond, but the length of time that we have no response [is unusual].

“It’s just a shame that it sits there.”

If the loan from the city's capital fund is approved, the theater once again will be a gathering place for residents and visitors alike. It could become a gem, a centerpiece for downtown.

Seeing people bustling in and out on a Friday or Saturday night seems a far more desirable outcome than a condemned, unoccupied building with no chance of shining brightly again.

Sauk Valley Media reporter Kiran Sood covers government and happenings in Sterling and Rock Falls. She can be reached at or at 800-798-4085, ext. 529.

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