The restoration of the Historic Centralia Fox Theatre has mostly been a piecemeal project, with bits of work getting done when money was available and the theater as a whole remaining unfinished.
But with a clear plan and nearly $1 million in funding secured, project organizers hope to have the theater ready to host events by the end of the year.
“We hope to have … a certificate of occupancy by the end of the year so that maybe we can do some cool stuff for the holiday season ‘23 in this building,” said Historic Fox Theatre Board of Directors member Joe Clark, who is also director of Twin City Transit, during a tour of the theater on Friday.
The plan is to use $500,000 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, which Lewis County allocated to the project, to finish protecting the facade and weather-proofing the exterior of the building.
“That’s sort of the low-hanging fruit of stuff we can do very easily … (we can) tie a bow on all that stuff before we move into the interior,” said Andrew Christensen, president and owner of the Olympia-based general contractor company Construct Inc., which is handling the renovation.
The renovation project committee brought in Construct Inc. because of the company’s experience working on historic buildings, Clark said.
As Christensen doesn’t expect the exterior work to exhaust the ARPA funds, project organizers will use that funding to start work on the interior that’s required for a certificate of occupancy, such as installing the fire line and the HVAC system.
A $482,000 historical grant will fund the remaining interior work that’s necessary for a certificate of occupancy.
The combination of the exterior and interior work that needs to be completed to secure a certificate of occupancy is considered the first phase of the remaining renovation work.
The second phase includes some of the bigger projects inside the theater, such as curtain rigging and a sound system.
“We can hold different kinds of events here while we work on Phase 2,” said Christensen.
Project organizers are working with legislators to “close the gap on the funding model” for second phase construction, Clark said.
The goal is to have Phase 2 complete by the end of 2024 or the beginning of 2025.
The end of Phase 2 will mark the completion of the Historic Centralia Fox Theatre’s renovation.
“The goal is to get this effort completed so it wouldn’t be still worked on in bits and pieces six, seven, eight years from now,” Christensen said.
“We’re on our way now. There’s no stopping us,” Clark said.
The Centralia Fox Theatre first opened in September 1930 as a member of the Fox West Coast Theatre chain and closed in the 1990s.
It has been under construction off-and-on since 2008, with $3 million worth of renovation work completed between 2009 and 2017, according to previous Chronicle reporting.
A total of $4.5 million had been invested into the renovation by 2018 or 2019, according to Clark.
The restoration work was on track to potentially be finished in 2020 — but COVID-19 brought the project to a screeching halt.
In October 2021, the restoration reorganized itself and, with support from the Economic Alliance of Lewis County and the City of Centralia, resumed construction.
With the City of Centralia being the owner of the property, the city council and Historic Fox Theatre Restorations — the city’s lessee for the property — entered into an agreement with the Economic Alliance of Lewis County, formerly the Economic Development Council, in February 2022 to move the work forward.
As part of the agreement, the Economic Alliance of Lewis County will be responsible for serving as the fiscal agent and project manager for the restoration work while Historic Fox Theatre Restorations remains responsible for the overall project, according to previous Chronicle coverage.
The project has since garnered the support of the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation.
“We honestly believe that this is one of those projects that … is going to galvanize this community and bring people together and make a big difference for folks in this community. And if we can help that, even in some small way, great,” said Jeff Warnke, director of government and public relations for the Chehalis Tribe, during a tour of the Centralia Fox Theater on Friday.
Chehalis Tribe Chairman Dustin Klatush recalled visiting the theater with his parents when he was a kid in the ‘80s.
“This is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to bring my kids here,” he said, adding that it will be a benefit to the entire community.
State Rep. Peter Abbarno recalled sponsoring a movie, “Say Anything,” at the theater for he and his wife’s fifth anniversary at the theater before it closed.
“We see this the same way you do: it’s cultural, it’s economic development and there are so many ways for the community … to benefit from this,” he said Friday.
Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston called the building “an anchor (of) downtown” and said its reopening would be a boon to the city’s economic development.
“The City of Centralia is in a renaissance … and it’s because people in the community are working on it,” she said Friday.
A total of $1.5 million of the project’s funding has come from private community donations, Smith Johnston said.