By the Sauk Valley Media Editorial Board

A majestic plan for theater

Sterling city government approved a plan this week to commit public money to a downtown movie theater restoration project. It’s up to the moviegoing public whether the city will be rewarded for its risk.

In the movies, problems can be introduced and solved within a few short hours – even in movies about theaters that show movies.

The plot of “The Majestic,” a 2001 film set in the 1950s, found a character played by Jim Carrey helping Martin Landau’s aging character restore and reopen an old movie house in a fictional California town.

All Carrey’s character needed was cleaning supplies, tools, paint, light bulbs, and elbow grease to return The Majestic theater to its former glory and fulfill an old man’s dream.

In the Sauk Valley, the real-life effort to restore and reopen an old movie theater is a bit more complicated.

To make this dream come true will require the combined efforts of a city, an economic development agency, the current owner, and a proposed new owner, not to mention an anonymous grant as well as the townsfolk.

The dreamer, in this case, is a young man, Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard.

The theater is the Sterling Theater, a downtown landmark whose marquee has been darkened for 5 years.

The plan, worked out by Shumard, is to have the city of Sterling lend $550,000 to the Greater Sterling Development Corp., which will use the money to buy the theater, fix it up with grant dollars, install new projectors, and sell it on contract to a new owner.

That person, Skip Huston of Avon Theatre Management Co., plans to utilize the theater to create enjoyable moviegoing experiences, such as the “brew and view” concept.

The idea is for patrons to eat a meal and drink beer and wine while watching movies that are well-reviewed but not necessarily those that appear at Carmike Sauk Valley 8 theaters on Sterling’s east edge.

The theater would be open Fridays through Sundays and would probably offer special events.

With a restored, functioning theater as a draw, other downtown Sterling businesses stand to benefit, as does the community as a whole.

What about risk?

In “The Majestic,” private enterprise (the theater owner and his helpers) took on the financial risk.

For the Sterling Theater project, public tax dollars are involved.

Some people find that concept hard to accept, given that the city has other needs for its tax money.

However, if the public buys into the project, the risk to taxpayers will be mitigated.

One way is for people to volunteer, when the time comes, to help clean up the theater.

Another is to patronize the theater once it opens, possibly by early May.

In “The Majestic,” people resumed attending the restored downtown theater with smiles on their faces.

Whether Sterling’s theater restoration project has a similar happy ending is not up to Hollywood screenwriters. It’s up to the public.

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