Ann Arbor moviegoers can expect changes in the comfort and presentation quality at the State Theater over the next year.
The Michigan Theater Foundation, a non-profit organization that runs the Michigan Theater on East Liberty Street, agreed to buy the State Theater Monday to keep it an operational cinema. The deal will formally close in September, after a 60 day due diligence period.
Last year, the owners of the State Theater, located on South State Street, announced they were looking into other uses of the space, such as an apartment building or offices. Currently, the building contains movie screens on its second floor and an Urban Outfitters on the first floor.
Russ Collins, executive director and CEO of the Michigan Theater Foundation, said although the non-profit has helped manage the State Theater since 1997, the foundation did not have an ownership stake until now.
Before Monday, the State Theater was owned by the Butterfield Theater Corporation, a Michigan-based theater operating company, Tom Borders, cofounder of the Borders bookstore chain, and Aloha Entertainment, another local operating company.
Collins said after the State Theater decided to explore different uses of the building last year, the foundation launched the “Save the State” campaign, in which members of the Michigan Theater let the community know about the State Theater’s renovation plans, and to encourage citizens to express their opinions to Ann Arbor City Council. They also created Facebook and Twitter pages to help mobilize the community.
“Ann Arbor has a world-wide reputation as a great city for movies and cultural events; that cultural profile will be diminished by the loss of the State Theater and its two screens,” the Facebook page said.
According to a press release sent out by the Michigan Theater, redesign plans and construction are expected to occur in the next 14-30 months, though community-based fundraising still needs to happen before significant renovations to the State Theater can be carried out. The Michigan Theater projected that improvement costs will be between $2-3 million.
Collins said though the Michigan Theater would like to preserve the quality of design and marquee arrangement of the State Theater, they would like to accommodate for where technology is moving by implementing updated sound and picture technology to the screens, which would allow the theater to play newer films.
“There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of movies that are released into the market every year, new movies, most of them are in specially filmed theaters, not the big blockbusters,” Collins said. “We want to make sure that Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor area has availability to a diversity of films.”
In addition, infrastructure improvements are also in the works. Collins said when the theater was renovated in the early 1990s to allow Urban Outfitters to operate on the first floor, it wasn’t done very comfortably, which is something the Michigan Theater would like to address. He added that he would also like to make the theater more accessible.
The State Theater was opened in 1942, designed by renowned architect C. Howard Crane who also opened the Detroit Fox Theater and Olympia Stadium in Detroit. It attracts over 50,000 moviegoers annually.