Renovation Will Convert The Screening Room From Storefront to Downtown Landmarkby Ben McNitt on Jul. 29, 2009, under arts
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME HAS GUIDED MICHAEL KEITH during years of determined persistence to renovate The Screening Room in one more step to revitalize downtown Tucson.
Today the Screening Room renovation at 127 E. Congress to its original 1910 façade is underway. By October the work should be complete, with the film theatre sporting a new overhang movie marquee “that will establish our identity on the street,” Keith says.
It’s been a long road.
Tucson is at least a generation behind most other American cities, Keith says, in getting its act together to revitalize their downtown areas as magnets of cultural and economic activity. For over a decade the board of the nonprofit Arizona Media Arts Center – Keith is a member – that runs the Screening Room talked about renovation, but there were no means to do the job.
The landscape changed when the Downtown Tucson Partnership facilitated a $62,000 grant to get the façade renovation started. The Screening Room was called upon to match the grant dollar-for-dollar. “We relied on the help of a lot of our friends,” Keith says, “people who gave $5 or $20 or $500. Help from suppliers, people attending fundraisers. It was a wonderful thing to see the collaboration and creativity that made this possible.”
Hours of research at the Historic Society and the University of Arizona uncovered old photographs showing the building’s original façade. Tucson’s architectural design firm of Ibarra-Rosano was signed on to prepare the renovation plans, including a new movie marquee that will convert The Screening Room from a storefront on the street to a landmark in the district.
There’s more to be done beyond what the façade restoration grant provides, including renovating the lobby, upgrading the restrooms and improvements in the 100-seat theatre itself. But once the façade is done, Keith is confident it will draw the people and the means for further improvements will come with them.
As that occurs what Keith calls “unfortunately one of the best kept secrets in Tucson” will begin to get the attention it deserves. He’s talking about the 19-year old Arizona International Film Festival, that this coming April will see a 10 day extravaganza of some 120 films including documentaries, shorts, comedy, animation and full length features that it would be impossible to experience anywhere else.
The Screening Room will also continue hosting Ignite Tucson, topic of a recent TucsonCitizen.com post, the brainchild of fellow Artistic Tucson blogger David Aguirre. Ignite features an evening of eclectic five minute live presentations, backed by slide shows on everything from discovering Absinthe to Zen.
Keith, for his part, is optimistic that Tucson is poised to finally get serious about downtown revitalization. “The public has been fed a steady diet of negative news about revitalization for the last decade,” he says. “That phase of confusion and finger pointing has probably run its course.”
It’s about time.