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Progress continues on Vista Theater

Carrier Construction and Services employee Todd Snyder works to remove a theater seat from the Vista Theater balcony on Dec. 2. The Negaunee based-company was contracted to shore up the interior walls of the theater’s auditorium following a roof collapse in August. (Journal file photo)

NEGAUNEE — Progress continues to be made on the Historic Vista Theater in downtown Negaunee after its roof collapsed last August.

The Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the theater, said “winterizing” of the building is complete.

“We had promised right after the roof collapsed that we would be getting the debris out of the building and then shoring up the walls for protection from the wind and have temporary walls put up to protect the stage area and the balcony and lobby,” said PAAC board president Rusty Bowers. “Those are all in place.”

PAAC contracted Carrier Construction and Services of Negaunee in December to head winterizing efforts. PAAC also rented equipment to secure the theater walls from Gundlach Champion at a discounted rate. It was estimated that $120,000 would be required for the winterizing work.

The Vista’s roof collapsed just after 8 a.m. on Aug. 26 as a result of heavy rainfall causing a failure in the roof’s drainage system. Nobody was inside the venue at the time of the incident, thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fundraising efforts to save the theater began shortly after the collapse. A GoFundMe campaign launched on Sept. 5 has raised nearly $66,000 as of Wednesday afternoon, while PAAC also hosted a returnable can and bottle drive in the fall. Thousands of cans and bottles were donated and volunteers continue to sort through the returnables on weekends. According to a previous Mining Journal article, PAAC expects the total amount from the can and bottle drive to exceed $20,000.

“We’re still sorting through cans (and bottles) from the drive,” Bowers said. “We have thousands of dollars worth to go. We’ve had small groups (sorting) because of the pandemic, with PPE (personal protective equipment) of course. We’ve returned over $7,000 worth of cans and bottles so far. We’re asking folks to stop donating cans (and bottles) for the time being so we can try to catch up. We are asking folks to return them to the store and consider a (monetary) donation instead.

“We still need the public’s help to finish off the work that’s been done. The cans (and bottles) are helping but it’s taking a long time. Our GoFundMe page is still active through Facebook or vistatheater.org, and we usually have sorting events on Facebook each Sunday if anybody wants to help.”

Other donation efforts were spearheaded by Negaunee High School alumni classes last fall, and monetary donations can also be accepted via mail by sending cash or check to the theater at 218 Iron St., Negaunee, MI 49866.

The Vista opened its doors on Sept. 20, 1926, and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Before the pandemic forced stages across the world to go dark, the theater hosted plays, musicals and other performing arts shows on a regular basis.

As for the next step, Bowers said a new roof design is being worked on right now. The process of getting the roof in place and occupying the building, however, may be a lengthy one.

“We are having the new roof design worked on right now and hope to start getting bids in the next month or so. We have put in a couple of grants that we won’t hear about until March or April. This is going to be a long process until we can get back in the building officially to do any business. We have to have the roof and the electrical and the heating systems in place to take occupancy.”

While the process may take awhile, the determination from PAAC is there.

“We are determined to get this place back up and running,” Bowers said. “The people have told us they want it back and have helped us so much. We would not be as far along as we are without the public’s support. It’s so important to thank everyone for all of their efforts. We want to see this place shine brighter than it ever has and bring community theater back to the West End.”

For more information on ways to donate or the latest project updates, visit www.vistatheater.org or Historic Vista Theater/PAAC on Facebook.

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