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Vista Theater roof collapses: No injuries reported, roof drainage failure thought to be cause

Nate Heffron, Negaunee city manager and president of the Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council, center, assesses the damage to the Historic Vista Theater with Negaunee city staff on Wednesday morning. The structure's roof collapsed at around 8:15 a.m. Wednesday due to what officials believe to be a roof drainage failure. (Journal photo by Ryan Spitza)

NEGAUNEE — The roof of the Historic Vista Theater in Negaunee collapsed on Wednesday morning.

According to Negaunee city officials, the collapse occurred around 8:15 a.m. and was contained to an inner section of the building. There were no injuries. Early assessments are pointing to roof drainage failure as the primary cause.

Officials say there were reports of a loud, thunder-like noise in the area, followed by a plume of yellow dust that spanned about a block.

“Right now, we’re kind of in assessment mode,” said Nate Heffron, Negaunee city manager and president of the Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council. “Nobody was injured, thankfully. The building seems to be intact at this point, but we’re having that assessed by our engineer.”

Currently, the primary focus is to ensure the rest of the structure is still in a safe condition, along with surrounding streets and businesses.

An aerial view of the roof collapse at the Historic Vista Theater in Negaunee is shown. The incident occurred around 8:15 a.m. Wednesday. Officials say there were reports of a loud, thunder-like noise in the area, followed by a plume of yellow dust that spanned about a block. (Photo courtesy of the city of Negaunee)

“We’re assessing what this means at this point, whether the streets will be safe around the Vista, which are Iron Street and Jackson Street,” Heffron said. “We’ve also been in touch with business owners to let them know that they shouldn’t be in their buildings at this time. Right now, this is only going to affect one business owner, but other businesses will be affected as well because we do have street closures on Iron Street. Some of these businesses will be open still, so we do advise that you call ahead of time before you take off.”

The theater opened on Sept. 20, 1926, and is owned/operated by PAAC, which hosts various major theatrical productions and shows throughout the year. PAAC was formed in 1973, while the theater itself was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

The structure has undergone several renovations over the last couple of years, including the replacement of both the stage roof and annex roof in 2018. Plans to restore both the interior and exterior of the building have also been in the works.

Heffron said the PAAC board was unaware of any current issues with the theater’s roof, but that historic buildings do show their age over time.

As of now, the building does not need to be torn down, and PAAC has no intentions to do so.

The damage to the Historic Vista Theater's roof is shown from above. According to Negaunee city officials, the collapse occurred around 8:15 a.m. Wednesday and was contained to an inner section of the building. There were no injuries, and early assessments are pointing to roof drainage failure as the primary cause. (Photo courtesy of the city of Negaunee)

“We are not aware that we had any issues with this particular roof, but the building being well over 100 years old and having other issues within the past, one would not say this was expected, but this was not out of the realm of possibility of happening,” Heffron said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened, and we are working to assess the situation and see how we can potentially save and repair this building.

“I want to make it clear that the building is not in the position where it needs to be torn down as far as we understand at this point. This building still appears to be very solid, it just suffered that roof collapse, which we believe is attributed to the failure of the roof drains.”

While the roof itself was newer, the drainage system was just as old as the building itself.

“It did have a newer roof on it, but it was attributed to the roof drain structure, which is also over 100 years old,” Heffron said. “That caused the water to pool, and the weight caused that water to come down, very similar to what happens with snow.”

The PAAC board held an emergency meeting Wednesday night via Zoom to further assess the situation. The public is advised to not enter the building until further notice for safety reasons.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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