The State Theater is located on Broad Street in downtown Kingsport and dates back to the 1930s.
Mayor Dennis Phillips brought up the issue during a recent BMA work session and received little enthusiasm from his fellow aldermen.
“The theater in some people’s eyes is very important. Others want to see it torn down,” Phillips said. “What interest do you think we have in exploring saving the State Theater?”
“It would make a nice park,” Alderwoman Valerie Joh replied.
“As an economic development opportunity?” Alderman John Clark quickly asked.
Phillips said that while the issue is “maybe something to think about,” he concedes the cost to purchase the building would be at least $300,000 and another $700,000 to $800,000 to complete the restoration of the building.
“I think it would be nice to have a restored theater, if money were no object,” Phillips said. “It certainly doesn’t do anything for downtown sitting down there for 10 more years. Ideally, it would be great to (renovate) it as a theater, but we have to get into the economics of it.”
Vice Mayor Tom Parham said you could look at alternative uses for the building, but would probably not expect to see anything happen with the theater until the economy turns around and money loosens up.
Alderman Tom Segelhorst commented on how the sloping floor in the building makes it hard for it to be a multi-use facility.
Restaurant entrepreneur Doug Beatty purchased the State Theater in 2005 and began renovations on the building in 2006. However, the recession took its toll a few years later and Citizens Bank of East Tennessee in Rogersville foreclosed on the property about two years ago, along with other downtown Beatty properties.
Earlier this year, the LampLight Theatre in Fall Branch attempted to raise funds to purchase the theater and relocate its operations to the new building, but came up short of the bank’s asking price of $350,000. Instead, LampLight purchased the nearby Strand Theater from Restoration Church.
As this was happening, Phillips brought together a group of downtown business owners and supporters to brainstorm ideas on how to save the theater.
That group offered $325,000 for the building, but again the bank declined the offer.
Two years ago, the Cinema Preservation Group of Asheville, N.C., conducted an economic impact study on the State Theater for the Kingsport Economic Development Board. The study found a restored State Theater had the potential to generate as much as $660,000 in annual revenues with the city seeing an increase in downtown spending of nearly $900,000.