For the Clyde Theatre, the moment of truth is nigh.
Several moments of truth, in fact.
In the next month, the long-shuttered south side cinema will either rise from the dead as a live music venue or sink back into oblivion.
The man who has been trying to revitalize the venerable Bluffton Road movie house is Rick Kinney.
Kinney recently took on one of the best equity partners that a young music industry entrepreneur could hope to befriend: Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack.
“I first went to Chuck earlier in 2015,” he said. “I visited with a lot of people to seek the right partners on this. As it turned out, I was running into some problems with the bank’s side of it and it was getting complicated with our other partners…”
Surack subsequently became “re-interested” in the project, Kinney said.
“As it turned out, he was the right partner for us,” Kinney said. “Chuck is really supportive of the city of Fort Wayne becoming a destination for entertainment, culture, music and community. He’s just really interest in building a strong community here.”
Given Surack’s track record of personal success and public philanthropy, Kinney said he thrilled to collaborate with him.
“The way that I feel having Chuck on as a partner is that I am honored to have the opportunity to earn his trust and respect,” he said.
The 23,000-square-foot Clyde Theatre, part of Quimby Village, was built in 1950. It was one of the first shopping center-based movie theaters in the country and operated under various owners until 1995. A church subsequently rented the space for a time and there was a flashy, if fruitless, attempt to transform it into a nightclub specializing in Latin music.
Kinney acquired the Clyde in 2012 for $500.
His vision for the theater involves turning it into a scalable, general admission concert venue with a capacity ranging from 400 to 2,200 people, depending on how it is configured. The theater will primarily be a standing (as opposed to sitting) venue, although some limited seating will be available.
Every aspect of the revamp has been subject to rigorous research and analysis.
Kinney said he studied more than 100 venues across the country – as patron, performer, stagehand and stage technician – and everything that he learned was brought to bear on renovation plans for the Clyde.
“I even recently spent two years as the technical director of the Embassy Theatre,” he said. “Through these experiences, I have learned what makes a venue good or bad… I have literally played all of (the roles associated with operating a theater) at one time or another.
“Unless your reader has visited the venues I have studied,’ Kinney said, “it is hard to describe what the Clyde will offer without opening the doors and giving them the experience.”
Renovation – which will include upgrades, equipment purchases and a parking lot repaving – will cost $5 million.
Three of the biggest pieces of this funding puzzle, Kinney said, are a $1.5 million bank loan, a $1 million Regional Cities grant and a $1 million Legacy Funds loan.
Each piece is fully dependent on the others.
“If we don’t get the million from Regional Cities and don’t get the one million (Legacy Funds loan) from the city,” he said, “then we don’t get the bank loan and I don’t get the private equity commitment from Chuck.”
Kinney went before the Northern Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) again on Feb. 14. If the RDA recommends Regional Cities funding, the Indiana Economic Development Commission (IEDC) will have 30 days to grant final approval.
He will go before the Legacy Committee on Feb. 16. The terms of the Legacy loan will then be negotiated with the Redevelopment Commission. The City Council must grant final approval.
There’s a 50/50 chance, Kinney surmises, that these pieces will come together.
If they do, construction will start in late April or early May.
Kinney hopes the theater’s success will be contagious in that area.
“I cannot tell you how excited I am to see further investment in Quimby Village and the surrounding area if the Clyde gets fully funded,” he said. “Although tons of exciting possibilities exist, it really would be up to the private sector to step in at that point. This will be the beginning of a domino effect of truly blighted, forgotten real estate blossoming into a tax-generating, entertainment and retail district.”
The Hall’s Restaurant chain owns riverfront property nearby that Kinney believes could be developed in much the same way as The Deck at the Gashouse was developed downtown.
While it’s great to have a vibrant downtown, Kinney said, no vibrant downtown is an island. A vibrant downtown needs “strong cornerstones.”
“We can build downtown up all day, but if you drive five blocks out of what they call downtown, you’re still pretty much downtown,” he said. “And if it’s blighted and economically distressed, it’s really not going to be a healthy and thriving community.
“One thing that has been proven by many other cities across the U.S. is that our downtown core will only be as strong as its foundational cornerstones and neighborhoods,” Kinney said. “The thriving success of corridors and neighborhoods such as Broadway to Rudisill; the GE Campus and Quimby Village; Wells Street and North Anthony and Calhoun Street and the many others will be absolutely essential to long term downtown development and population growth in our region as a whole.”