BY KATHY GIBBONS
MANISTEE — The Vogue Theatre is another step closer to curtains up.
A $15,000 donation from Northwestern Bank has helped nudge fundraising to restore and reopen the shuttered historic downtown movie house high enough to be in the running for a $500,000 Michigan Economic Development Corporation grant. Steve Brower, chair of the capital campaign, said the goal is to raise $2.3 million. The total raised so far is at $1.1 million and counting.
"The capital campaign had to reach a certain benchmark ... before the MEDC would consider our grant application," said Brower, who's also a Northwestern Bank vice president in Manistee. "This $15,000 was a part of that."
Brower said the Vogue Theatre Restoration Fund is seeking donations from a few foundations, and several individuals are looking at making end-of-year gifts. The construction work is out for bid now and the group is keeping its fingers crossed for price breaks from contractors and subcontractors.
"We're really hopeful there's going to be some huge savings as a result of the contractors giving us some favorable pricing," he said, noting that Home Depot already pledged to sell materials at reduced rates while securing similar actions from some of its suppliers.
"Some of their other suppliers that provide the electrical parts, maybe some of the plumbing parts, the bathrooms — all those fixtures — we're kind of hoping those vendors may be willing to make some donations as well," Brower said. "Potentially this has a huge ability to drive our costs down substantially."
Brower is expecting construction to begin in January, with interior work finished in April and exterior improvements continuing after that. In the meantime, he said filmmaker Michael Moore, founder of the Traverse City Film Festival, along with its executive director, Deb Lake, have been instrumental in providing guidance along the way.
"They've been a real asset," he said.
Manistee County has no other movie theaters within its boundaries.
Laura Heintzelman, executive director of the Manistee County Community Foundation, is serving as fiduciary agent for the restoration fund. She said the prospect of having the theater up and running this coming summer for the first time since 2005 is already creating a buzz.
"It's going to absolutely have a positive ripple effect on downtown businesses," she said. "We've seen an upswing in interest in storefronts and potential new businesses.
"Just as the State Theatre has had a tremendous impact on downtown Traverse City and the occupancy rate, we're confident we'll see a similar ripple effect here," Heintzelman said.