Before the city of Auburn leased the Auburn Avenue Theater in 2006 and made it into a 250-seat theater, it had been a carriage house, a bus depot, a movie theater and a dinner theater.
But as city leaders have publicly pondered on numerous occasions since 2013, what in heck should Auburn do with this 93-year-old building when the lease with JB and Jillian Douglas is up on Dec. 31, 2021?
Maintain it as a theater? Extend the lease? Put more money into yet another round of repairs? Raze it and build anew at the site? Find some other parcel downtown and build there?
This week, two years ahead of the lease’s expiration date, the city settled the question: it agreed to buy the theater for $650,000 total, the appraised value – $570,000 – plus one of the two years left on the lease, using real estate excise taxes (REET 1) to pay for the acquisition.
Mayor Nancy Backus noted that while the city council voted 6-0 in favor of the purchase – Largo Wales was absent – there is paperwork to complete, which she expected to wrap up on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Backus said the city will rename the interior of the building The Jillian Douglas Auditorium.
Auburn’s Parks, Arts and Recreation Director Daryl Faber said the city’s pending ownership of the building opens up a wealth of funding possibilities.
“Until now, we could get grants for, like, improving the sound system, but we couldn’t do true capital improvements like changing the seating capacity,” Faber said. “… You’re not going to get money if you don’t own the building. There were two years left on the lease, and it was perfect timing to get together and make sure we could get grants for improvements and keep the arts alive in the downtown.”
Faber added that the property is in the perfect location, next to the future Arts Alley, and the future Arts and Culture Center in the old public health building.
“As far as what remodeling we’ll do in the future, we haven’t even gone up that road,” Faber said, noting however, that the city expects to revisit potential changes suggested by a study it commissioned on the theater in 2014.
Mr. Douglas, who had flown in from Dallas in time to make it to City Hall for Monday’s moment, described his feelings at parting from a building that has been such a part of his and his family’s life for so many years.
Indeed, JB and Jillian became Mr. and Mrs. Douglas on the theater’s stage some 20 years ago.
“It’s kinda like seeing your children go off and do something great: you know it’s the right thing, and it’s a great thing, but emotionally, it’s difficult. But this is what should happen in my opinion, and what I’ve always wanted to happen,” Douglas said.
Council members, likewise, weighed in.
“As we all know, this has been a long time coming,” said Councilmember Claude DaCorsi. “We have a tremendous asset in the city with the Auburn Avenue Theater … and I look forward to the potential changes, to the upgrades and to the programming that will take place in this wonderful new asset.”
Councilman John Holman disclosed a secret he’d closely guarded for decades.
“I snuck in there for an R-rated movie when I was 15,” said Holman, remembering the theater when the Mullendores owned it.
“Of course, it was a silent movie,” Councilman Larry Brown interjected, with a playful dig at Holman’s age.