Ohio legislators eye funding for Grand Theater

STEUBENVILLE – Two area state legislators are lobbying their colleagues to include $900,000 for improvements to the Grand Theater in the fiscal year 2015 and 2016 capital budget.

“I was asked to submit a request for funding for the Grand by both state Sen. Lou Gentile’s and state Rep. Jack Cera’s offices. The request was submitted by them to the General Assembly leadership and both are working on getting this request in the final bill,” explained Scott Dressel, president of the board of directors for the Grand Theater for the Performing Arts Restoration Project.

Dressel is encouraging all area residents who support the Grand Theater restoration project to contact Gov. John Kasich to encourage him to support the $900,000 capital budget request.

“I have the opportunity to submit a list of projects from my state Senate district, and I believe the restoration of the Grand Theater is important to Steubenville and Jefferson County. My submission of the Grand Theater project is part of a package of several projects. I will be sitting down with the Senate Finance Committee chairman to discuss my list,” explained Gentile, D-Steubenville.

Bellaire Democrat Cera said restoration of the theater, “will go a long way to providing the downtown Steubenville area with an anchor for future projects.”

“You have a number of volunteers and financial backers who have supported this project for the past four years, and I think the state can step in with financial support for the project that can help Steubenville grow and thrive again,” said Cera.

“The $900,000 request will fund restoration of the stage, flyloft and HVAC for the theater as well as the dressing rooms. Of course, any amount helps, so no matter what we get we will be moving forward again this summer on completing the front facade restoration as well,” said Dressel.

“During the past four years we have completed several major phases of the theater restoration and have completed new roofs on the building, a restoration of the theater lobby, mold remediation, asbestos abatement, approximately 50 percent restoration of the front facade, an engineering study of the building and architectural laser scanning,” said Dressel.

“The entire project will create at least 100 construction jobs for a couple of years. We will be utilizing the construction expertise the Playhouse Square Theater district in Cleveland has developed with Ohio contractors. We want to make sure as much of the invested dollars are spent on Ohio contractors and Ohio-made materials as possible,” said Dressel.

“Once completed, between 300 and 500 permanent jobs will be created as local businesses expand and new businesses are opened to take advantage of the event traffic generated by the operating Grand Theater Performing Arts and Event Center. Completion of the Grand Theater project and further development will turn around the blight that has plagued the downtown area since the demise of the local steel industry. The local economy has stabilized and slow growth is occurring. The Grand Theater will assist in accelerating that process and will help the area take advantage of the oil and gas industry traffic that is passing through the city,” declared Dressel.

“With the redevelopment of the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel site in the south end of town and new businesses coming into the area from the oil and gas industry, now is the time to make this happen so we can capitalize on this growth and catapult Steubenville into a thriving and vibrant city.

“The creation of more activity and bringing in more dollars to the community will also curtail the crime that comes from decline and blight. This project is a core piece of the new Steubenville Comprehensive Plan,” stated Dressel.

According to Dressel, the theater includes the main historic theater that seats about 1,000 people with a stage and dressing rooms, two ballrooms, office, lobby, a museum of local performing arts, artists cafe and work area where people can come to meet, talk, enjoy local art on display and watch while art is created.

“We also just launched our first Internet-based capital campaign through an online funding campaign source called Indiegogo. You can also get to the campaign and make a donation from our web site, www.historicsteubenville.org, or from our Facebook page Grand Theater for the Performing Arts Steubenville, Ohio,” said Dressel.

“We have three new videos about the project on the Indiegogo campaign page that are informative about the restoration of the Grand and about all our volunteers who have helped get us where we are today,” he added.

Dressel has been leading the grassroots efforts to preserve and restore the theater since 2010 when the last remaining downtown theater was in danger of falling victim to a wrecking ball of years of neglect and lack of repairs.

Since starting the campaign to save the theater, Dressel has coordinated the sealing of the leaking roof, removal of the main floor auditorium seats and cleaning the interior of the building.

Volunteers have also restored the lobby of the theater with paint and new carpeting.

“Sometimes we are too quick to tear down the old historical buildings because of their poor conditions. It will be nice to save a piece of Steubenville’s history for a change. I have never lost a project once I started a restoration. I don’t want to start now,” Dressel stated.

The front of the building that houses the lobby was built in the 1880s to house a saloon and livery station.

The theater was added in 1924 when the four Biggio brothers (Charles, Edward, Howard and William) leased the property, tore down the livery stables and built the auditorium for a theater.

Visitors to the theater in 2010 saw broken seats, a water-soaked stage and falling plaster.

But Dressel said he could look past the aging interior and see a theater once again filled with movie and stage patrons and, “the glory of the past years.”

“When I stand on the stage I actually see the theater finished in my head. In my head it is all done. I do that all the time.

“When I work on my restoration projects I always envision and think about everything for a long time before I actually do anything because it is art, not just structure so you really have to think your way through,” explained Dressel.

“I want to be able to invite all of the volunteers onto the stage on the opening night of the new Grand Theater for the Performing Arts. That will be an exciting evening,” Dressel said.

Dressel has estimated the restoration project will last at least 10 years.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com)