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Better late than never — State Theatre opens in Greenville

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Concert goers are lined up outside of the State Theatre on opening night on Jan. 26, 2019. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Mackenzie Tewksbury
The Daily Reflector

Monday, January 28, 2019

“Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart” were the first words sung at The State Theatre in Greenville on Saturday. It seemed symbolic, and the crowd loved it.

The State Theatre opened it’s doors for the first time on Saturday night with Cosmic Charlie, a high-energy Grateful Dead cover band from Georgia. And even after months and months of setbacks and canceled shows at the theater, concertgoers all echoed the same sentiment: better late than never.

“It looks like Greenville’s got a new venue,” the lead singer of Cosmic Charlie said before erupting into an energetic cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.”

The State Theatre is owned by the same entertainment group that owns The Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh. Restoring the theater and opening it as a live entertainment venue is a project the city of Greenville and nonprofit Uptown Greenville worked on together.

It has been a long process.

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 accommodate tour buses and delivery trucks for the theater and surrounding merchants.

CommunitySmith, which specializes in revitalization projects statewide and worked on two other successful redevelopments on Fifth Street and Dickinson Avenue, purchased the the 104-year old building, located at 110 W. Fifth St., from the city in September 2016 for $20,000.

As part of the purchase contract, CommunitySmith was to convert the structure into a live music and performance center on or before March 31, 2018. The contract included a 120-day grace period.

The deadline and grace period passed, but the building remained under construction.

Finally, after months of delays, CommunitySmith announced in December the theatre would be ready by mid-January.

 

Director of Uptown Greenville Bianca Shoneman said now the theater is open, it will be an “incredible asset” to the city.

“Someone once said, ‘Whatever good things we build end up building us,’” Shoneman said. “The State Theatre’s restoration is a project that will build this city’s cultural scene for years to come.”

Those attending the Cosmic Charlie show seemed to agree.

“I’ve got a cold beer, there’s Grateful Dead music playing, and I didn’t have to travel,” concertgoer Kaitlyn DeBord said. ‘It’s the best way to spend  Saturday night .”

DeBord said she is excited to have more good music right at home now and was impressed by the new theatre.

“It almost doesn’t feel like we’re in Greenville,” DeBord said. “But I’m so excited that we are.”

Owner Mark Thompson said there still are some cosmetic things to finish up on the theater, but he is excited to finally offer this concert location to Greenville residents.

“I grew up right down the street in Goldsboro. I would drive over to The Attic all the time growing up,” he said. “Greenville having a live music venue like this is very important.”

Jeff Blinder, leader of the 10-year old local music festival Spazz Fest, said the theatre is a huge game-changer for the music scene in Greenville — one he has been immersed in for years — and it will have ripple effects throughout the community.

“If they can combine bringing in those desirable larger acts while showing support to the local music community (who have been waiting for something like this for years) then I think that balance is what will endear the venue to the most folks and help make it the successful venture it deserves to be,” he said.

Shoneman said she is looking forward to what is to come in Greenville.

“So, grab your dancing shoes,” Shoneman said. “I’ll see you at the theatre.”

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