People talk about all of the revitalization of the downtown Phoenixville and how things have changed over the past 12 years. I remember when I got there in December of 2003 there was a bright spot through all of the nonsense that was happening and that was the Colonial Theatre.
Besides showing excellent films and its beautifully restored building, the Colonial Theatre offered something more to Phoenixville. It stood as the beacon of hope and channel for spirit in the town. The town was a little down on its luck since the steel mill had closed, and aside from valiant efforts by the Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corporation (PAEDCO), not much else was happening in Phoenixville other than the Colonial.
The Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corporation (PAEDCO) had purchased the Colonial Theatre. In 1997 the Association for the Colonial Theatre (ACT) signed an agreement with PAEDCO to purchase the theatre, and for the next year they organized a board, developed a business plan, and did market research. The Theatre opened in 1999 showing Independent films.
In December of 2003, coming from Philadelphia’s South Street to Phoenixville, I was aware of the power that a performing arts venue had for the street. The Theatre for the Living Arts (TLA) made South Street happen during my time there. I was anxious to get started when I knew that such a critical part of the revitalization puzzle was already completed.
I had known Mary Foote, the staff person for the Colonial Theatre, through her participation in the Pennsylvania Downtown Center conferences. It was through her leadership that the theater became a viable entity in the downtown. But it was more than being a viable entity that made the Colonial Theatre stand out. It was the community base that recognized it was a treasure.
The community base included many artists, and became the basis for the arts and entertainment economic development strategy, which included First Friday, Summer Music Series, Firebird Festival and a plethora of smaller events. The volunteers, artists and musicians became the participant in staging any number of events. In fact, the Colonial had its own event, Blobfest.
Aside from people’s physical talents, it was their ideas, thoughts and creative efforts that set the tone for the downtown revitalization. Innovative ideas flowed, and the spirit of the revitalization spread throughout the community.
From the Main Street Community Development Corporation’s (CDC) point of view, the Colonial Theatre became a focal point for grant funding. We were able to craft an Anchor Building grant for the Commonwealth to fix the balcony, and ensure that it was structurally sound. The Main Street CDC was also able secure some community development block grant (CDBG) dollars to provide handicapped access to the upper floors.
Today the Colonial Theatre is a good position, with the increased foot traffic in the downtown, and continues to act as a catalyst for development in the downtown. They recently bought the old bank building located next to the theatre, and are renovating the building.
The expansion plan is to add two additional screening rooms to show films in after they are debuted at the Colonial. One of the screening rooms will accommodate about 160 people, and the other will accommodate about 60 people. The single screen is limited to what ACT is able to offer to the community. The rules concerning showing films have some time length restrictions, and they can restrict flexibility in booking other entertainment or events. Changes at the theatre will also create opportunities for additional live entertainment at the main stage, such as concerts. There will be improvements to the lobby of the Colonial. Through the planned renovations, the current lobby will connect to a larger lobby that has a concession stand.
As the town grows in the regional marketplace, exercising market domination in dining and entertainment, many of the towns up and down the river look to Phoenixville as it continues to grow. There are 275 apartments now in the process of being rented in the downtown, and plans for additional apartments on the steel site. The apartment market in Phoenixville is for a reason, and that reason resides in the heart of the revitalized downtown that everyone wants to visit. It is the Colonial Theatre.
Barry Cassidy is a freelance grant and economic development consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.