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Council OKs loan for movie theater project

Local development group will fix up, sell building on contract

STERLING – Plans to renovate the downtown Sterling Theater received the City Council’s blessing Monday night.

The council voted 4-0 to approve a $550,000 loan from its capital fund to the Greater Sterling Development Corp., which will buy the downtown movie theater, owned by Ralph White since October 2009 but vacant since 2007.

The GSDC will sell the theater on contract to Skip Huston of Avon Theatre Management Co., who will purchase the building by making monthly payments for 11 years.

White’s asking price was $399,000; GSDC will pay $235,000 and use the rest of the money to get the building remodeled and up to code.

The payments will go back to the city, City Manager Scott Shumard said. In addition, the GSDC will be collecting rent on four units that are part of the theater property, that now house a beauty salon, a barbershop, a medical scrubs store and a tattoo parlor.

Huston plans to be showing movies by early May, and hold a grand opening by Memorial Day. One of Theater Management Group’s concepts is for a “brew and view,” featuring beer, wine and food for patrons, and the company likely will hire 12 part-time employees.

Before the vote, Shumard outlined why the city should approve the project.

“The question became why are we involved on the public side and why isn’t this just a private-market type of issue,” he said. “For us, I think the most important part is, it is downtown. It’s the most prominent and influential section of the city.”

Two state highways run through downtown, and 10,000 to 11,000 thousand cars pass that building every day, he noted.

Also speaking in favor of the proposal was Bryce Mead, who owns Mead’s Bike Shop next door.

“The theater ... it’s been an eyesore ... I’ve called the city about broken glass, it needs to be redone, to bring the city back to what it once was,” Mead said.

Often, customers comment on the lack of downtown options, he said.

“This is another way to bring more businesses in the city of Sterling and make Sterling better than it was today. Every day we should be looking to be better than the last.”

Mary Benson is president of Sterling Today, a local development group.

“We are very much in support of this project and applaud the city for taking on the risk,” she said. “It’s a very large project compared to the other projects that our group has done, and we definitely want to partner with you on it.”

One person voiced concern about the loan.

“Did you do a study so there could be some projection of the amount of people that are going to come in to the theater for what you’re offering?” Norma Wollens asked. 

Huston said his venues are intended to reach a segment of the population that has given up going to the movies, and he noted that with only eight screens available at Carmike’s Sauk Valley 8 theater, there are a lot of good movies not being shown locally.

“We’re not going to try to take anything away from Carmike,” he said. “We’re going to give something to the Sterling people, some movies that you read about sometimes or you’re watching the Oscars and you think ‘I never saw that, maybe it will come out on DVD soon.’

“Well, we’ll have it over there.”

What's next?

STERLING – Now that the council has approved the $550,000 loan, a purchase contract with Skip Huston of Avon Theatre Management Co. will be signed.

Owner Ralph White has accepted Greater Sterling Development Corp.'s offer of $235,000, pending council approval, and now the city will finalize quotes for renovations and repairs, City Manager Scott Shumard said.

To try to keep the project within in budget, the city will be looking for volunteers to assist with clean up and restoration.

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