Second fire damages Alpena theater on Sunday

By The Alpena News

ALPENA — For the second time in just over three years, the Thunder Bay Theatre suffered damage from a fire.

After undergoing damage from a fire that destroyed the former John A. Lau restaurant in July 2020, a large section of the theater was destroyed by a blaze in the early morning hours of Sunday.

Renovations to repair the damage caused by the 2020 fire began in September. The hopes were it would reopen in the fall of next year.

Thunder Bay Theatre President Anne Gentry said as sad as the news is, things could have been worse. She said the hard work and dedication of the firefighters prevented the fire from spreading into areas of the building being renovated. She said the board already had discussion on what the plan will be moving forward and although right now there are more questions than answers, it has been determined, at least for now, to move forward with more repairs and eventually reopen the theater.

“We were lucky that it was just the warehouse area and where the cast changes and didn’t spread into the part being renovated,” she said. “I don’t think this is the end of the theater. Yes, it stinks but why throw in the towel now after everything we’ve been through.”

According to a press release from Alpena Fire Chief Rob Edmonds, the entire rear section of the building is a total loss and the fire remains under investigation as to its cause and origin.

Edmonds said in his release that an Alpena police officer on patrol noticed the fire, which was initially believed to be at the post office. It was later learned that it was the historic theater that was engulfed with flame.

“Crews were faced with visible flame showing from the rear of the structure believed to be a cold storage area of the building that already was self-venting through the roof area,” Edmonds said in his release.

When firefighters arrived at the scene, they swept the building to ensure there was nobody in it and then shifted their focus to prevent the fire from spreading into the main part of the theater’s building. Although Edmonds said that was accomplished, the damage to the rear of the structure was severe.

Edmonds said seven on-duty personnel made the initial response and were supplemented by six off-duty personnel. A total of 15 Alpena firefighters were on the scene when captains and Edmonds were counted.

The Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center Fire Department received a request for personnel to help form a rapid intervention team to be available for firefighter safety deployment.

Edmonds said MyMichigan EMS, Alpena Police Department, DTE Energy, Alpena Power Company, Alpena Department of Public Works, and JJ’s Steakhouse complemented operations.

Fire crews cleared the scene at about 9 a.m. Sunday.

The theater, which is in downtown Alpena, has been moving closer to having a comeback after suffering water, smoke, and structural damage from the John A. Lau fire.

The renovation project had a $1.4 million price tag and much of that money was secured through a variety of state and local grants including the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Arts and Culture Council, State Historic Preservation Office, First Federal Legacy Foundation, and the Besser Foundation.

The theater received insurance funds for the damage, but the funds needed to be more adequate to address all of the building needs.


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