Geneva Theater General Manager Daniel Colwell stands outside the 89-year-old theater, which has gotten a facelift with new lighting and a new façade reminiscent of the original. (Vicky Wedig photo)

By Vicky Wedig

Community Editor

The Geneva Theater opened its doors to movie-goers Friday for the first time in years.

Burlington businessman Shad Branen bought the 89-year-old theater on Broad Street in April and began $2 million in renovations.

Ontario native Daniel Colwell was brought on as the theater’s general manager in November.

The concession area of Geneva Theater, with a never-before-used popcorn machine, will feature items from the Sprecher’s menu. (Vicky Wedig photo)

The theater was built in 1928 by Community Theaters and has gone through several owners through the years, said Ken Etten, of the Friends of the Geneva Theater group, which formed in 2011 to restore the venue.

In the 1970s, Standard Theaters owned the site and built an addition on the north side in 1975, Etten said. In 1985, Esseness Theaters split the venue into four theaters – a main theater and balcony theater in the original part of the building and two theaters in the north addition, he said.

From 2004 to 2007, the parent company of the Showboat of Lyons, the other movie theater in town, operated both venues, Colwell said. After the Showboat company stopped operating the downtown theater, a Chicago businessman operated stage productions in the theater until around 2009, he said. In 2010, the building was vacated, and some Lake Geneva area residents formed the Friends of the Theater in 2011, Etten said. The group’s aim was to convince the city to help buy the building and restore it as community arts center, he said.

Branen bought the building nearly a year ago and restored it to the four-theater model created in the 1980s.

Colwell said Mother Nature had wreaked havoc on the building as it sat vacant for about seven years.

“The water damage was horrendous,” Colwell said.

The building was gutted, mold remediated, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems replaced and four theaters created inside, he said. Colwell said when he was hired, old movie projectors from the 1970s were still inside the building rusted together. The old marquee was removed from the outside and a new sign and lighting – reminiscent of the original – were erected along with a new façade.

The new theaters hold 214, 101, 92 and 78 spectators, respectively. Special seating with larger seats and stainless steel tables can be rented in the back of the theaters. Three of the theaters are on the main level, and a balcony theater on the second floor boasts the largest screen and a 92-person capacity.

A party room upstairs with a view of Broad Street can be rented, and a dance studio has expressed interest in rehearsing in another second-floor space, Colwell said.

The theater passed inspections Friday and began business with one feature – “Logan,” a superhero movie featuring the character Wolverine played by Hugh Jackman.

Eventually each of the four theaters will feature a different movie with “Beauty and the Beast” coming next, Colwell said.

The lobby of the new theater has an area where historical artifacts from the venue will be displayed, a “selfie” room with movie posters where movie-goers can photograph themselves with their movie display, and concessions with the usual movie fare along with pizza and items from the Sprecher’s menu.

The theater opened with a core staff of six employees, and Colwell said the venue’s brand new seating, state-of-the-art sound system and location will make it attractive compared with the larger Showboat theater.

“We have a location advantage being right in the downtown and so close to all the hotels,” he said.

The $2 million renovation included $195,000 in tax incremental finance funds and $30,000 from the Friends of the Geneva Theater for lighting. Coldwell said he expects residents to become involved with the theater just as supporters did for its renovation.

“This is really going to be a vibrant place for the community,” he said.




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