GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A forgotten movie theater on South Division Avenue will be restored to some of its former glory if Marcus Ringnalda has his way.
Ringnalda, the building’s new owner, envisions the 4 Star theater finding new life as a home for live performances and other cultural activities much like the historic Wealthy Theatre a few miles away.
That transformation could be a catalyst for turning around the depressed neighborhood. First, Ringnalda must find funding.
“It is a not a multi-million dollar thing which I think is great,” said Ringnalda. “It is more of a million dollar thing, which to me is a huge distinction.”
He sees his role as a developer on the project bringing together people who would benefit from its use or are interested in having a hand in its restoration.
Ringnalda saw 4 Star’s potential two years ago when he was working on a church conversion of the building for his employer, Wolverine Building, which didn’t move forward.
“I was keeping my eye on it because I always saw the real potential on the inside of how well suited it was to actually return to use as a theater,” Ringnalda said.
Last week, he closed on the property, at 1950 S. Division Ave., for $160,000 under the entity, 4 Star, LLC. The previous owner is listed as Jay Kim, LLC, which acquired the building for $190,000 in 2013, according to public records.
Ringnalda considers the price a deal because the building’s concrete, brick and steel are worth a $1 million.
His purchase price isn’t much more than what the 11,300 square-foot theater was built for nearly 80 years ago. It cost $138,000 to construct the 1000-seat venue in 1938 with an Art Deco interior, air conditioning and the latest sound reproduction technology.
That original look is hard to find. Inside the dark, musty building are folding chairs, tables and shelves. Books are strewn across the littered carpet, possibly from a recent break-in.
When Ringnalda flips on the lights, the ceiling is illuminated with blue and green bulbs. They are remnants from the theater’s time as the Carnival nightclub during the 1980s and early 1990s. Also from that era is a once functioning rotating stage.
During its Carnival days, more than 1000 people would come through the doors on the weekends, remembers James Harverson. He worked there after graduating from high school.
“It was so nice inside,” said Harverson, who took a look inside on Friday with Ringnalda. He noticed the dancer cages are gone.
Haverson, now a gospel singer, says he would love to return to the theater as a performer.
When it opened, 4 Star was the fifth movie house in Grand Rapids for B&J Theaters Inc. The location was selected to take advantage of the new industrial and residential development going up in the area.
The theater shuttered three decades after opening, and two years after the local 1967 riots rocked the surrounding neighborhood.
Restoring the theater will be Ringnalda’s first solo development project. His day job is converting old buildings like schools and hospitals to residential or other uses for Wolverine Building. He’s currently working on an old orphanage in Marquette.
He realizes that saving the 4 Star will likely take a few years to pull the resources together.
The $2 million restoration of the Wealthy Theatre took a good decade. The effort began in the late 1980s to save the neighborhood vaudeville and movie house built in 1911.
In 2004, the nonprofit performing arts venue became part of the Community Media Center after slippping into debt. The restored theater is considerered an anchor in the turnaround of the Wealthy Street neighborhood.
Ringnalda says he realizes that saving 4 Star will require a team effort.
“I have talked to a few people in the neighborhood and I know I’m going to need to engage a lot more,” he said.