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Group’s $3.1M plan makes theater a civic center

Closed Urbana movie theater a key part of downtown, supporters say.

Church members voted to buy the now-closed Urbana Twin Cinemas and unveiled a three-phase, $3.1 million plan to create the Champaign Civic Center.

Urbana United Methodist Church parishoners Monday night approved the $225,000 purchase from Chakeres Theaters Inc. of Springfield, which abruptly closed the theater in October after 40 years in the city.

“This is a great opportunity to work with the community, work with surrounding churches, to really develop a community treasure that can serve our community for decades,” Pastor Jim Lillibridge said.

The church put $10,000 down on the building in the fall to give it until February to buy it. In that time, the church’s feasibility team, spearheaded by Dr. Dave Smith, has received community input and looked at possibilities for the building.

The team has worked with Urbana University, the Champaign Preservation Alliance, the arts council, the chamber and other community organizations to make its vision a reality.

“We live in a community that works together well,” Champaign County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Sandi Arnold said.

“This needs to be a community project to get this done. I know the church has taken on a lot. It’s real important that Urbana University the other organizations, the chamber, preservation alliance and the arts council, jump on board,” Urbana Mayor Bill Bean said.

Phase one is expected to cost $850,000.

The first task is for the church to create a nonprofit corporation to take over the mortgage, remove any further financial obligations from the church and start the capital campaign for renovations.

The church plans to keep a majority on the board of directors for the new corporation, but it wants to get other community groups represented.

Until the corporation is formed, the mortgage, utilities, insurance and basic maintenance on the building will cost the church more than $2,000 a month.

Once the corporation is able to raise the money, the church hopes for it to restore and renovate the existing building into one grand auditorium with a 3D digital projector.

Basic stage lighting and a sound system would be added for community and faith-based events.

The single theater is expected to hold up to 350 people at the start and up to 500 in with future improvements.

The church wants to remodel the lobby, kitchen and remaining ground floor to include a lounge and retail kiosk space. It wants to restore the exterior of the building to its 1940 art deco architecture.

“The possibilities are endless, and so that’s what excites me the most,” Lillibridge said.

In phase two, the church hopes the corporation can raise another $850,000 for further developments to the building. It wants to remodel the second floor to include offices, a control booth and spacious rooms for banquets and receptions. It wants to add an elevator, rooftop deck and dining area, dressing rooms and a balcony above the auditorium. It hopes to improve the lighting and sound systems to accommodate professional music and local theater productions.

“It’s going to bring many more people to our community to eat in our restaurants, shop in shops, it’s going to be real good for our community,” Bean said.

Phase three is well down the road, but the church plans for the new corporation to purchase another downtown property and preserve it. The new building could provide more retail and office space, a youth center, a developing technologies center, a free health clinic, apartments, and possibly a web-based radio and TV broadcast studio for students of Urbana University and Champaign County schools.

Phase three is estimated at $1.4 million.

Church members were divided on the vote with 34 in favor and 19 opposed.

There were lots of questions at Monday’s meeting about the financing of the building. There is no guarantee for the church that the 501 (c) (3) corporation will ever be formed and be able to take over the lease. Also, non-for-profit organizations often take more than a year to form, and the church will be responsible for the more than $2,000 a month in upkeep for the building.

The worst-case scenario is the corporation never forms; in that case the church said it would sell the building.

Lillibridge asked people to vote for the “God” choice, not necessarily the “good” choice. He said it was better to vote for faithful decisions rather than successful decisions.

The church voted Monday to take out $43,000 out of its investment fund of about $150,000 for the down payment on the building.

The church’s purchase is contingent on getting the loan approved by banks.

The church does plan for the new corporation repay the down payment and other costs for the church when it is able to.

Feasibility team member Dave Smith is optimistic about the fundraising efforts. He said when he was at the building inspections office and told the secretary about what he was working on she asked,” When can I make a donation?”

The church collected $11,000 since in donations in just more than a week, which will help with monthly cost until the corporation is formed.

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