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Readying Sterling Theater for opening night

New owner hopes for late May, early June debut

STERLING – When it opens, Sterling Theater will offer moviegoers an experience unlike any other locally.

Visitors will be able to enjoy wine or beer while watching a film as part of the “brew and view” moviegoing concept.

With the concept finalized, Skip Huston can focus on the work that needs to be completed before the theater is ready to open its doors.

Huston is owner of The Theater Management Group, which will operate the renovated theater once it opens. He and a few members of his staff visited the downtown business on Wednesday afternoon to walk through and get an update on how work is progressing.

Huston said he hopes for a late spring or early summer opening, but he won't open the establishment until everything is perfect.

"You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and I want it to be ready, I want it to be 'Wow, look what happened here,'" Huston said. "Whether that's Memorial Day weekend or whether it's a few weeks after that, I really don't care.

"It's going to be right, or it's not going to be opened until that time that it is right."

What's going on inside

Inside the building, the two auditoriums are being prepared to comfortably seat viewers.

Right now, bright multicolored sound-fold panels line the walls. Those panels will come down and be replaced with pewter grey sound fold, Huston said.

Some of the seats in the auditoriums will be removed and reconfigured. The goal is to build a platform in the back that will replace the last four rows of seats, he said. Tables and chairs will be placed in that area.

Huston said he is waiting for the digital projectors to be installed. The northern screen will be replaced with a silver screen for 3D projection.

The concession stand is going to be rebuilt. That work has yet to be completed.

"We haven't even begun to order the equipment for that yet," Huston said. "There will be a new popper, butter machines. ... It's all going to be completely rebuilt with the candy counters and everything else."

Beer and wine service will be offered in the bar and kitchen area.

Huston still is working with his staff to finalize the menu. Ashley Petty, manager of the theater group, has been tasked with deciding the menu, which Huston said likely will include primarily finger foods such as pizza and hamburgers.

All the asbestos in the building has been removed, he reported.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sterling Mayor Skip Lee stopped by to look for himself.

"Anytime you have a project, it never goes as fast as you would like to see," Lee said. "We're very pleased; we're making progress. We're excited."

The mayor said he has received many comments in the past month by residents who have seen the marquee lit up. People are getting excited, he said.

Bridget Spitzer, who is set to become the assistant manager of The Theater Management Group this summer, toured the building for the first time this week.

She said the theater has "a lot of potential" and room to become something great.

"I thought, it's a little scary to take something like this on, but I really think it's going to be worth it," she said. "I think it's going to turn out great."

The biggest challenge of all

Huston said that simply taking on the project of renovating the theater has been his biggest challenge.

"Literally bringing this facility back from the dead, that's not an easy process," he said while standing inside one of the auditoriums. "But I've never been one to go for the easy process. We are accomplishing now at the Avon [Theater in Decatur] what is said to be impossible."

He said someone in Sterling asked him how he could possibly compete with the Carmike Sauk Valley 8 in Sterling.

"My answer was, Because I'm doing it now in Decatur, and I have been for years,'" Huston said. "The very same company, competing with them successfully, and so what's the challenge? I know what their faults are; I know what their pluses are.

"I know how to fight them."

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