By ROBERT KELLY
Collinsville, IL — The goal of restoring downtown Collinsville’s historic Miner’s Theatre in time to reopen for live productions honoring the building’s 100th anniversary this year almost certainly won’t be met.
Even so, those who are actively involved in renovating the theatre at 204 West Main Street believe they can finish the job within the next few years. They need the help of more generous support from the community, area labor unions and others who love live plays and musical productions in classic old venues.
Redevelopers estimate that nearly $2 million in repairs and upgrades are needed to restore and upgrade the theatre for reopening.
“There’s hope that the city will realize the economic value of finishing the restoration of the theatre,” said Vicky Borror, president of the nonprofit group called the Miner’s Institute Foundation. The foundation is raising money, seeking grants and otherwise coordinating efforts to complete the restoration.
The group optimistically had thought the money could be raised and the work done in time for the theatre’s centennial celebration in December 2018. Border conceded that the timetable was no longer realistic.
But given the fact that the Miner’s was built by union labor for the union coal miners in the Collinsville area 100 years ago, area unions are still willing to pitch in with donated work and funding to help restore the building. Structurally, the three-story brick and stone building remains basically sound, Borror said, with most of the money needed to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and to bring wiring and plumbing up to code.
UNIONS GETTING INVOLVED
Among the unions that have provided help with donated materials and labor is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 309, with headquarters in Collinsville. Local 309 electricians have installed exit signs at the Miner’s Theatre and would gladly help more as needed, said Chris Weir, the local’s assistant business manager.
“We’ve donated a lot of time there,” Weir said. “A lot of electrical work still needs to be done. It is a great facility, and we hope to be involved even more in the project.”
Weir encouraged other unions to get involved at the Miner’s as well.
Borror said the foundation had prepared a packet of information for Collinsville city officials in hopes of getting the city to set aside some revenue and help seek grants to improve the theatre. Part of the information given city officials states: “Based on a simple economic analysis using a Chamber of Commerce website, each activity at the (Miner’s) theatre will, on average, bring $40 per person into the community. The main theatre has seating for approximately 470 people. A sellout crowd has the potential of drawing $18,800 into the local economy for each performance.”
She also said the theatre could provide an anchor for the continuing redevelopment of all of downtown Collinsville.
ASKING THE CITY FOR HELP
Ten years ago, Main Street in Collinsville suffered from blight, vacant storefronts, and crumbling sidewalks.
In the last decade, the city and various community organizations have implemented programs and developed financial tools to turn the area around, and the “Uptown” Collinsville District is once again alive with unique shops, locally owned restaurants and an array of offices and financial institutions.
Having the theatre reopened would further this effort by drawing more visitors to the area, which would help support the neighboring businesses and restaurants.
City officials are considering the foundation’s proposals but say they unsure where any city funding might come from.
Among other improvements, the theatre needs new restrooms and plumbing, a new heating, air-conditioning and ventilation system, an alarm system, new seats, a refurbished stage and stage curtain.
The last live stage performance at the Renaissance Revival-style theatre was in 2009. That was shortly before some code violations and a lack of compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act forced the theatre to close. The upper floors are only accessible by stairs. An elevator is needed.
Many items remain beyond the current fundraising efforts of the foundation, which have generally covered routine maintenance, small repairs, utility costs for electricity and to keep pipes from freezing, Borror said.
“I need $80,000 just to finish the new fire alarm system,” she said.
The Miner’s Theatre opened late in 1918. Construction of the building cost nearly $139,000 and was financed by local coal miners’ unions. Mine Workers locals built the theatre by withholding one percent of their wages. It opened Dec. 28, 1918.
The building’s second and third floors once provided a home for union offices and a central meeting place. Those floors also were used by community groups for social activities and housed a small library.
The theatre hosted vaudeville productions in its early years and later became a movie house, as well as continuing to host live entertainment. Currently, the Miner’s Theatre has about 740 seats. Building records show that the original seating configuration was near 1,000 seats or slightly more.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, and it was named a Collinsville Progress Historic Landmark in 1993 and a city of Collinsville Historic Landmark in 2013.
Modern attempts to remodel the theatre date to the late 1980s and include more than $1 million in work done during a brief period of building ownership by the Collinsville Area Recreation District. The Miner’s Institute Foundation assumed full ownership of the building from the district for a second time six years ago.
Anyone interested in donating or volunteering to help with the project may contact foundation officials at 618-972-4236 or by email at email@example.com.