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Deadline nears for theater completion

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The renovations of the Uptown Theatre on Fifth street are progressing as of Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018.


By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A contract with the city of Greenville stipulates that renovations of the old State Theater in downtown Greenville must be complete by the end of March, and the company in charge of construction says it will be done. 

CommunitySmith, a Clayton based developer that specializes in revitalization projects, purchased the historic property from the city in September 2016 for $20,000. It is renovating the building and partnering with a Raleigh business to operate a live music venue.

The purchase came with a contract requiring Community Smith to make a minimum investment of $1 million and a directive to renovate the theater so it receives a certificate of occupancy by March 31, 2018.

That leaves the company with 42 days to finish the reconstruction and pass all required inspections for occupancy. Meanwhile scaffolding and construction fencing surrounds the Fifth Street property, whose front and rear facades remain open to the elements. 

Roger Johnson, economic development and revitalization manager for the city, said the contract with Community Smith stipulates the city will fine the company for each day the theater is not complete past March 31. Johnson said the fines are in the range of $100 a day, with a maximum penalty of $300,000.

Holton Wilkerson, a managing partner with Community Smith, said Friday he is not worried about the financial penalties because he expects the theater to be completed by the deadline or shortly after.

He said crews encountered challenges and delays as expected when taking on work in a century-old building with limited access in a tight downtown core, but overall the project is on schedule.

“We’re all very pleased with it being right where it needs to be, especially considering we had some bad winter weather in the midst of it, and had some delays because of it,” he said. 

He said the most difficult and complicated work has been completed, and now crews can proceed with the simpler tasks.

The theater opened in 1914, closed in the late 1990s then fell into disrepair. The city Redevelopment Commission purchased the property in 2008 for about $281,000 with general obligation bond funds designated for downtown redevelopment.

The city used about $175,000 in Brownfield grant funds and another $165,000 in bond funds for environmental cleanup and structural stabilization work — which included replacing deteriorated roof beams — and to redesign the city-owned Washington Street parking lot to make it more service-oriented to accommodate tour buses and delivery trucks for the theater and surrounding merchants.

Wilkerson said after CommunitySmith took possession, crews continued stabilizing the building and removing the structure that housed the theater’s fly system — used to hoist backdrops for stage plays. He said it was removed for structural stability and environmental reasons.

The rear of theater is being expanded for show space and dressing rooms. He said the theater also will feature a multi-level design with a full bar with and flexible seating on the main level to allowing for a variety of configurations to meet the needs of different events. Additionally there will be a large mezzanine floor.

Most recently, the steel framework for the mezzanine has been installed in the theater, Wilkerson said.

The facility will be operated by Lincoln Theater in Raleigh, which draws nationally known musicians to its facility there.

According to Wilkerson, Lincoln Theater believes bands it books in Raleigh also will perform in Greenville, and an additional venue will help the business bring in even more acts.

He said Lincoln has been planning to schedule shows by the return of the school year in August, and until then the theater will host smaller private events.

He said they may plan a grand opening event sometime in late spring or summer. 

CommunitySmith also was involved in the redevelopment of the Superblock complex at Contanche and Fifth streets, the Dickinson Avenue Public House and Trollingwood Taproom and Brewery on Dickinson.

The theater must operate as a music venue for 10 years under the city contract.

Contact Seth Gulledge at Sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. Follow him on Twitter @GulledgeSeth