In mid-April, the Fort Wayne City Council provided the last piece of the Clyde Theatre renovation puzzle.
It approved a $1 million Legacy Fund loan for the refurbishment of the historic but long-shuttered Fort Wayne entertainment venue.
Even Keel Productions president Rick Kinney, who bought the theater in a tax-delinquent properties sale for $500 in 2012, said three funding components combined to make his Clyde Theatre dream a reality: the Legacy Fund loan, a sizeable investment from Sweetwater Sound founder and president Chuck Surack and a $1 million grant from the state’s Regional Cities program.
The Regional Cities grant money comes from the Indiana’s Regional Cities economic development initiative and the Legacy Fund loan is money from the sale of the city’s old power utility.
The Legacy Fund vote was unanimous, he said.
“Its pretty noteworthy that we got a nine to zero vote from the city council of support on the Legacy dollars for this,” he said. “That, in itself, was really the best feeling. City council members are voted in by the people on a local level.
“Local politics are pretty powerful,” Kinney said. “If people want to change something, they can vote for people and campaign for people. These people are our reps in Fort Wayne and they voted in favor of this public spending measure.”
Kinney’s plan is to turn the Clyde into a multi-use entertainment facility specializing in live music that can’t be enjoyed elsewhere in Fort Wayne.
He said it will be the largest standing room concert hall in Indiana. The roughly 10,500-square-foot lobby will double as an art gallery, Kinney said.
A long and arduous journey was required to get to this point, he said.
“Imagine being on shark tank every day for 5 years,” Kinney said. “That is basically what I did and I got run through the meat grinder until I refined my plan enough to get to the right people. It was a great experience and I gained a ton of knowledge along with a few grey hairs.”
Built in 1950, the 23,000-square-foot theater at 1808 Bluffton Road was one of the nation’s first movie houses to be based in a shopping center. It was widely praised for the beauty of its design.
It closed in 1994 and it has remained closed to this day despite numerous attempts to resurrect it in various guises.
Now, actual work on its rejuvenation has indisputably begun.
“Hagerman (Construction) has just completed all the demolition,” Kinney said. “And the local plumbers and carpenters are in their working on framing all of the offices out.”
“A local sheet metal company is in there laying out all of the HVAC,” he said.
While this structural and infrastructural work is going on, Kinney said he is talking to bands and performers and finalizing details of the sound and lighting systems.
Kinney said the sound system is being designed and constructed by Even Keel Productions and All Pro Sound, a Pensacola, Florida-based company that Surack acquired in 2011.
The Clyde will employ four full-time staffers and “well over” 20 part timers, he said.
It is on track to reopen mid-to-late summer 2018, Kinney said.
Surack said he has fond memories of frequenting the Clyde and was intrigued at the prospect of helping revive it.
“When Rick Kinney approached (my wife) Lisa and me,” he said, “we were immediately attracted by both his passion and his vision for the theater. He’s a great guy and extremely knowledgeable, so we decided to help him get to the finish line and make the project the best it can be.”
A venue gap has existed in Fort Wayne, Surack said, and the Clyde will close that gap by hosting shows designed to accommodate audiences in the 1000 to 2000 patron range.
“Most cities have something like this, but there’s no space like it in northeast Indiana, so performers just pass Fort Wayne by,” he said.
There’s a time for a venue like this, Surack said, and that time is now.
“The recent overwhelming success of other entrepreneurial live-music endeavors such as the Fort Wayne Music Fest and the Middle Waves Festival has demonstrated that the region is thirsty for live music.”
Dan Swartz, director of the Wunderkammer Gallery on Fairfield Avenue, said it is always exciting to see new projects popping up on the city’s South side.
“As they build momentum and attract audiences, our region begins to see more of the historic beauty and impeccable design which these parts of Fort Wayne contain,” he said. “My hope is that, ultimately, we see more projects on the southeast side to compliment the developments in the 46807 and Quimby Village areas.”
Kinney will be programming entertainment at two Fort Wayne venues in 2018: The Clyde and the Sweetwater Pavilion, a 3700-capacity outdoor concert venue.
In 2016, Sweetwater Sound announced its intention to construct a 200-foot-by-40-foot pavilion on its property at 5501 U.S. 30 West.
The finished pavilion was the location this summer for numerous events associated with Sweetwater Sound’s Gearfest and for additional concerts brought in by Kinney.
Rusted Root and Adrian Belew performed in the pavilion, thanks to Kinney.
Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy appears there on Friday, September 28.
“That’s just laying the ground work for what we’re going to do in 2018 at the pavilion and also it’s setting the stage what we’re going to do at the Clyde Theatre,” Kinney said. “We’re getting a little bit ahead of the game and staying ahead of the curve for all the talent we’re going to bring to the Clyde.”
Kinney said Even Keel Productions will manage both the Clyde Theatre and the Sweetwater Pavilion in 2018.
Even Keel has partnered with Etix.com to handle ticketing for Clyde Theatre events, he said. Tickets will also be available at all Wooden Nickel Music locations and Neat Neat Neat Records and Music.
Plans for the rest of Quimby Village, the shopping center anchored by the Clyde, are more amorphous, but they are hopeful.
Kinney said Even Keel and its partners currently control 75 percent of the complex.
The entire 6-acre parking lot, in an extreme state of disrepair at present, will be resurfaced, Kinney said.
Kinney said he would love to see a restaurant or two come into the complex that use locally sourced ingredients a la The Golden and Tolon.
He also hopes the Hall family one day considers constructing a riverside deck near its Bluffton Road restaurants like the one it built downtown.
In July, the Hall family announced that it would be adding carhops back to its Hall’s Original Drive-In eatery at 1502 Bluffton Road.
Kinney thinks the return of carhops is a direct result of the commencement of the Clyde Theatre renovation.
“They made that announcement a couple of days after the groundbreaking,” he said. “So it’s definitely tied into that.”
Ideally, Quimby Village will one day be a one-stop source of “really good food, entertainment, recreation and art,” Kinney said.
“That’s the direction I’d like to see the shopping center take,” he said.
Surack said he believes the new Clyde will spur a lot of change.
“There is no question that Quimby Village needs new investment and the renovation of the Clyde will have a transformative effect on the area,” he said.
None of this would be happening were it not for Chuck and Lisa Surack, Kinney said.
Other people and entities he said he wants to thank: YLNI (Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana), Friends Of The Clyde Volunteer Crew, Citizens of Fort Wayne & Allen County, NEIRP (Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership), IEDC (Indiana Economic Development Corp.), Three Rivers Federal Credit Union, City of Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne City Council and the Allen County Council.
Bonus story follows: A Clyde Theatre update from January, 2018…
With the outdoor temperature regularly degrading to negative numbers, it may be hard to imagine the fun you’re going to have next summer.
It’s easy to crave that fun, but it’s hard to imagine it.
But Rick Kinney is very good at imagining the fun you’re going to have next summer.
He has to be.
Kinney is in the thick of signing acts for his Clyde Theatre – currently being renovated and scheduled to reopen sometime in the middle of the summer.
“Right now, I am making offers and approving offers for artists for the Clyde in 2018,” he said.
Kinney said the acts will be made widely known by way of a big reveal “sometime in February.”
“We’ll be able to announce the first three to six months of shows,” he said.
The Clyde began its life almost 70 years ago as a movie theater. It closed in 1994 and never reopened, despite at least one earnest effort.
Kinney bought it in 2012 in a tax-delinquent properties sale and spent five years trying to secure funds toward its rehabilitation.
Last spring, all the pieces came together.
The Clyde is now set to become the largest standing room concert hall in Indiana, catering to crowds in the 1000 to 2000 patron range.
The fact that he has reached the point in this long-nurtured dream where is actually booking shows in his very own venue seems a little surreal to Kinney at times.
“After thinking about this for most of my adult life,” he said. “Then buying the building, going out and raising all this money, and then going through the construction/planning process and finalizing process and all of that stuff goes along being an entrepreneur and trying to do everything right – I really did it all because I just wanted to throw some rock and roll shows.”
One of the biggest challenges of programming the Clyde, Kinney said, is that no one knows what it is. It has no track record.
“When you tell people, ‘I am opening up this venue and it will be done at this time,’ agents typically say, ‘Yeah, right.’”
Meanwhile, construction and rehabilitation work continues apace.
Kinney said the workmen have laid the foundation for the dressing room and are just getting started on the plastering.
“7000 square foot of concrete foundations for the dressing room and the load in and load out area and the backstage area,” he said. “The plaster repair is pretty extensive. We’re installing 11,000 square foot of acoustical plaster in the main hall. We want to make it one of the best-sounding rooms in the country.”
Kinney said all the plumbing is roughed in. The only thing left to do in the bathrooms is to add fixtures.
Polishing of the concrete floors is about halfway done, he said, and the stage extension still has to be completed.
While all of this handiwork is happening outside his office, Kinney is working on marketing, promotions, audio, lighting, security, ticketing and catering.
Clyde forms the core of an aging south side shopping complex called Quimby Village. Kinney and his partners control 75 percent of that complex.
Kinney said he has grand plans for the complex, but the Clyde Theatre is going to require most of his attention for quite a while.
“We’re really focused on getting the Clyde Theatre up and running and making it a success,” he said. “Those other properties are undervalued. We’re interested in driving up the value of those other properties.”
A model for Quimby Village is the cultural district in Indianapolis known as Broadripple, Kinney said.
“We’re seeking the right kind of tenants there,” he said. “We’re looking for something that’s going to cater to the Millennial generation. Our main goal for this whole thing is to attract and maintain a young talented workforce and break the status quo a little bit.
“We want businesses there that Millennials and Generation X are going to patronize,” Kinney said. “All that stuff is in our peripheral vision, but for now our eyes are focused on the Clyde Theatre.”
Kinney has been working closely on everything with partners Chuck and Lisa Surack.
“They have a huge team of people,” he said. “Talented professionals from all sorts of different backgrounds.”
A vibrant Clyde will give Chuck Surack another recruiting tool for his company, Sweetwater Sound, Kinney said.
“Chuck understands that the venue will cater to Millennials and Generation Xers,” he said, “and those are the type of people he is trying to attract and retain here – not only for Sweetwater and Fort Wayne as a whole.”
Kinney said Chuck trusts his programming ability.
“He knows that I understand the type of music that people my age want to see,” he said.
Kinney recently launched a new web site for the venue: http://www.clydetheatre.com.
After the February schedule announcement, tickets for shows will begin to become available for purchase via the site, he said.
There will be a hiring fair for part-time positions sometime in March, Kinney said.
Kinney said this is the most exciting time of his life.
“I have never been happier,” he said.