Canby residents take in plan to reopen theater

CANBY – About 40 residents of the Canby area came to a town meeting on Monday night to see the first draft of a plan to refurbish and reopen the Canby Theater.

City Administrator Nicholas Johnson presented a plan to buy the main theater from the present owners, replace the 35 mm projectors with digital equipment, replace the existing swamp cooler with modern air conditioning and replace some of the seating.

According to Johnson, the preliminary estimate comes to $165,000.

“This is a preliminary plan,” Johnson said. “It’s hopefully where we see things going.”

Funding would come partly from local sources and partly from grants from the Minnesota Historical Society and the Small Cities Development Program.

Johnson told the audience the city would lease the refurbished property to an operator who would be responsible for operations, management, maintenance, bills and taxes. Johnson cited similar programs he’s looked at in Madison, Morris and Lake Benton.

“They’re not making money hand over fist, but they’re making it,” Johnson said.

And hopefully the theater would be ready to open by May.

“We’ve talked about different options such as a volunteer-run theater,” said Canby Mayor Gene Bies. “The focus is, we want a theater in Canby. We want to save the building and the longer it sits empty, the harder it’ll be. It has to start somewhere, and that’s what this meeting is about.”

In response to a question from the audience, Bies said further plans currently wait on negotiations with the owners of the corner lot to sell the 500-seat main theater building. There is also a smaller screen theater in the corner complex, but plans do not presently include it.

Dorothy Zimmerman, president of the Vennskap Lodge 554 of the Sons of Norway, talked about other possible uses for the building.

“We had a concert in August 2011 with Gordon ‘Crazy Fingers’ Lindquist, and we had 185 people,” Zimmerman said. “We’re having him back this August, and we could be planning for 250 or more. So it would be nice to have the theater open.”