Some members of the Canton City Council have approached the Canton Downtown Development Authority with a proposal to screen movies at the Canton Theatre. The DDA operates the theater, which is owned by the city.
Councilman Jack Goodwin said he brought this initiative to the city about four years ago, but said the city struggled with funding the proposal. Goodwin said the city now has money set aside that could help fund the operations, but no final amount has been tallied. The second-term council member said the purpose of the initiative is to get people back into downtown Canton again.
“We’ve spent money restoring it, so we might as well use it to get people into downtown,” he added.
The Canton Theatre began operations as early as 1911, showing silent movies. In the 1920s, it was renamed “Bonita” and had movie showings on Fridays and Saturdays.
During the 1930s, the theater was renovated and expanded and renamed “Haven.” In the late 1930s, it was sold to the Martin-Thompson Theatre Co. and remodeled. New restrooms, modern art decorations, fireproof walls and sprinkler systems were installed.
The theater showed movies for 30 more years, but experienced a decline throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1994, it was bought by Bill Filler for restoration.
The city government acquired the theater in 1997 and completed renovations in May 2000 to turn it into a performing arts facility.
The theater now has a regular schedule of live performances from theater production companies. It continues to be used as a rental facility for weddings, conventions and musical performances.
The theater is funded by hotel/motel tax revenues, rental fees and ticket sales. Canton DDA board member Zach Kell said the DDA is also looking to add sound equipment that could be used for a wide variety of needs. He noted the DDA would like for the system to incorporate specifications that would benefit musicians, stage productions and corporations looking to use the theater for conference meetings.
Kell said estimates they’ve received for the project range from $25,000 to $100,000, depending on what the DDA is looking for in its equipment purchase. Kell said he believed the DDA should move forward with the proposal.
“We tested the water and didn’t feel like it was right at the time,” he said, referring to the original discussions a few years ago. “But we think this is the right time and the right venue to do this.”
DDA Board Chair Wanda Roach said the issue will be up for the entire board to review during its meeting on Sept. 10. Roach, who said the proposal will “add another dimension to the theater,” and the DDA will then take the figure it comes up with and present its numbers to the council.
Theater Manager Bob Sequin added the DDA will also have to figure out how it would pay royalties and commission on each of the films it plays and which films will be available to show. The theater would also need to figure out how much it would charge residents to see the movies, who will distribute the tickets and who will be responsible for maintaining the equipment.
Sequin did note he was also in favor of the proposal.
Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood added he’s also in favor of expanding the theater’s functionality to include playing movies. He noted the city could provide up to $38,000 to help the DDA get the project off the ground.
“The theater is such a great venue …and I think would help bring people into downtown,” he said.