A new lease on life

CANBY?- The Canby Theater has been acquired by a city-business partnership determined not to let it die.

“It might reopen again,” said Mike Tesch, who ran the theater for 18 years. “It’s been closed a little over a year. As a new venture it’s going to be difficult, but it’s exciting.”

If all goes well, Tesch may be operating the theater under lease from the City of Canby.

According to City Administrator Nicholas Johnson, owners Clement and Carolina Ellango wanted $120,000 for the entire corner property, which includes the main theater building, a smaller theater room, a few office properties and some apartments on the second floor.

“The city just wanted the theater,” Johnson said. “One-hundred-twenty is the number they wanted and we weren’t going to give that just for the theater. We talked to one of the current business owners and they said, ‘We’ve been here so long, we might as well own it.’ That’s when the light bulbs went off.”

After figuring and negotiating the city put in $68,000, Husby Properties put in $50,000 for the non-theater share of the building, and an anonymous donor contributed $2,000.

“For one thing I’ve always wanted to see it become an operating theater again,” said Lori Husby. “For myself, we’ve always gone there and taken our grandchildren. We made a lot of memories there.”

But closing the deal is only the beginning. The building and foundation are sound, but the theater needs a lot of work. The old projectors need to be replaced with the new digital models. The lighting, cooling and heating systems must be replaced, the marquee needs work, and the seats, though in quite good shape are not the modern adjustable kind.

So far the city has $17,000 in donations, a fraction of what’s needed, but hasn’t started serious fund-raising efforts yet.

“If it seems expensive, consider the cost of doing nothing,” Johnson said.

It all depends on how much local residents think the building is worth saving. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the few remaining theater buildings with an actual stage in front of the screen, balcony seating and a “crying room” in back of the projection booth.

The city envisions the building as a multi-purpose facility and has starting the application process for a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council to pay for stage lighting and sound system.

“I feel it’s extremely important,” Canby Mayor Gene Bies said. “Growing up in a small town we always had movies. That marquee has been up there 75 years.”