By TRAVIS HANDY
What is described by many Radford citizens as an “anchor business” could be up for grabs as early as the end of February or March.
Saving the Radford Theater was the topic of discussion in a meeting hosted by Main Street Radford in early January. The meeting was the second since November; an effort on the part of Main Street Radford to facilitate the sale of the Radford Theater when the current owner, Frankie Kirk of Blacksburg, retires.
The theater, a mainstay in Radford’s downtown section, has been around since 1935. For the last 30 years it has been owned and operated by Kirk, who says it is time to move on from the business. When he leaves, he would like to sell the theater’s equipment and name. The property itself is owned by Jeff Price of Price Williams Realty and is rented on an open-ended lease.
The theater runs a 35mm platter projector, showing first run movies at affordable prices. Part of the appeal for locals and students are the $5 tickets. It boasts a screen over 30 feet wide and seats 400 moviegoers in the lower level. There is also balcony space available, which is not regularly used.
Theater owner Kirk said he would essentially like to see the business sold and kept open as it currently is. Although he indicated some individuals have shown interest in buying the theater, Kirk said most of the interest has come in the form of patrons asking him not to close.
“I’d like to see someone buy the Radford (Theater) and run it,” he said.
Kirk said he would like to see the theater survive because of its historical significance to Radford. He has owned and run the theater since 1983.
The platter system projector would need to be replaced by a digital system, which could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. He said the theater needs no immediate structural renovations, but a new owner may want to make aesthetic changes.
“You’re constantly doing improvements all the time, so if a new (owner) came in … he might want to change the paint, or change the carpet,” said Kirk. “It would be up to (the owner) coming in, what he wanted to change. There’s nothing that drastically needs anything.”
Kirk said he is always ready to talk figures with potential buyers and he has a price in mind, but if the right buyer doesn’t come along, he has other options, which include selling the business equipment. That equipment would include the seats, projector and spare parts, screen, drapes, speakers and some of the concession equipment, like the popcorn machine.
Kirk said there are two companies that buy theater equipment and he would be looking into what those companies would be able to offer him for the business equipment.
In the January meeting, interested community members, business owners and representatives of the City of Radford discussed options for keeping the theater open as a historical point of interest and bringing life back to the theater. An option the group entertained was the possibility of forming a non-profit organization to take charge of renovating, promoting and developing a new program strategy to revitalize the theater and preserve it for the community.
There would be considerable effort needed on the part of a non-profit group, much like the story of the board and volunteers who formed Friends of the Pulaski Theatre Ltd. and took on the task of renovating and reviving Pulaski Theatre. The theatre’s vice president, Mike Fleenor, has played an active role in reviving the theatre since 1992 and said the more than 20-year process has been laborious and costly.
Fleenor said in 1992 the theater was property of Pulaski County, and was given to a small board of citizens who did not want to see the theatre torn down. The group formed a 501c3 corporation, which meant they could take tax-deductible donations from the public as well as grants from local, state and federal governments to use for the renovation.
In the case of the Radford Theater, there may not be as much time for a non-profit organization to act. The process of acquiring and then renovating Pulaski Theatre took about 20 years and cost around $850,000, the work virtually all done through volunteer efforts.
“(For 15 years) we raised approximately $850,000 through grants from the local, state and federal governments and also from private donors,” said Fleenor. “In 2008 we began the major renovations of the theatre and after about three years if was finished.”
According to Fleenor, the theatre was basically gutted and rebuilt from scratch including 531 new seats, a new ceiling, floors, bathrooms, concession stand, carpet, marquee, and dressing rooms, among other major upgrades.
“I think the Pulaski Theatre is a huge success. We have provided a high quality of programing from the start and for the first time since the 1960s,” said Fleenor. “While sometimes the attendance is less than we would like, the quality of the shows is excellent. Each show draws more and more people and we believe that eventually more and more people will come to a show.”
There will likely be another meeting concerning the Radford Theater in February if no interested parties have reached an agreement with Kirk to buy the theater. Until Kirk’s final days of ownership, moviegoers can continue to enjoy Radford Theater’s current movies at affordable prices in the unique setting so many patrons remember and love.
“I’ve enjoyed great support from the townspeople of Radford and also people from Christiansburg, Floyd and Blacksburg,” said Kirk. “I really do thank them for that.”