ELBA -- Friday afternoon was a special occasion for Restoration154 board members and other Elba city officials as the community gathered for a grant presentation in the historic Elba Theatre.
Restoration154 is a non-profit organization created in 2011 that focuses on restoration projects around the city of Elba, said board member Justin Maddox. The organization’s biggest project has been rehabilitating the historic Elba Theatre, which was purchased in 2011.
“The theatre is our big project, something we’ve been working towards the entire time but took more money than the other projects we’ve undertaken,” said Maddox. “This building was bought back in 2011, and since then we’ve been looking for funds to rehabilitate it and make it so we can use it as a space the community can enjoy.”
In March 2018, Restoration154 joined together with the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) to hold a workshop aimed at continuing revitalization efforts for the Elba Theatre. That initial partnership led to Friday’s grant presentation -- the first awarded outside the state of Georgia -- in which the Elba Theatre received $25,000 from FTI.
“Elba’s receiving $25,000 in grant funding for urgent emergency funds to help with stabilization and all the work they need to get done here,” said FTI Representative Leigh Burns. “In March of 2018, we had a gathering of different partners, and they came back and applied, and that’s what they’re getting funding for. It’s non-matching funding, it’s a full gift, and we awarded it back in October and they had until now to get the stuff done they needed to get done.”
Burns said during the check presentation that the Fox Theatre has a similar story to many of the theatres its foundation seeks to assist. Because of that common origin, FTI has awarded approximately $1.8 million in funding to historic theatres over its ten years of operation.
“We always say when we present these checks that our story is your story, and many of you in the room who were born after 1974 will probably not know this, but the Fox was majorly threatened from demolition in the early ‘70s from the incoming development of the AT&T building,” said Burns. “We ourselves were less than 15 days away from the building being demolished, and because of the involvement of people like yourselves that came together in the community and said that this place has to be saved, has to be made economically viable for the community, it’s still standing. Our story is your story. It may be a different scale, but our story is your story, and it really took the foresight and hard work of people in the community saying, ‘We have to do something about it, we have to make something happen.’”
Burns added that Elba’s story is unique thanks to the efforts of Restoration154 and the Alabama Historical Society.
“The Restoration154 story, I tell that story to people that I work with, and they’re amazed by that story,” Burns said. “It’s a story full of hope, and I want you all as a community to remember that it’s very special to have this for yourselves -- not everybody has this.”
Maddox said that the grant money will go towards structural repairs on the theatre.
“The money we’re receiving today is all roof-related and structural,” he said. “It was very important to this space because there are some things that just need addressing to make sure that the building would stand, that needed immediate attention. We want to make sure the building remains in a good state until we can get it fully functional.
“The ultimate goal is to have a cultural arts facility, a building that can be used for community events but primarily for showing film, theatrical productions, some concerts, but the idea really is to have a draw to bring people back downtown and keep them involved with one another.”
Restoration154 is accepting donations toward the theatre rehab project. Maddox said those interested in donating can find more information on the theatre website, www.elbatheatre.com.
“We are finishing Phase I this year, but we still have 2 more phases, so we’ve still got a lot more funding to find, and we’re always accepting donations,” said Maddox. “We will be pushing for our community to support this in different ways, coming to events over the next year, and we just hope everybody will join us.”