Atchison, Kansas, will have a renewed movie theater when the efforts of a local nonprofit pay off.
The board of directors of Theatre Atchison has voted to undertake the restoration of the defunct Royal Theatre in downtown Atchison, with the goal of reopening the building as a two-theater cinema.
Early in its effort, Theatre Atchison already has secured a six-month option on the building and approved an architectural-services contract to define the necessary scope of work. Next, the organization needs to raise an estimated $800,000 to make a reality of its vision.
“The intent is to completely gut the building, refurbish it and create a state-of-the-art, digital, two-screen movie theater with a third multi-use space for a variety of additional programming,” Travis Grossman, executive director of Theatre Atchison, said.
The building will be remodeled to include one theater on the lower level, eliminating the existing twin-theater arrangement, and a second, smaller theater above. The concession area would be remodeled into a multi-use space. New movies will be shown for a ticket that’s lower in price than the Kansas City and St. Joseph markets, Grossman said.
“The need we are addressing is specifically a quality-of-life issue for Atchison,” Grossman said. “In the past six years, we have lost our movie theater, our miniature golf course and our bowling alley. There are many citizens who can benefit from the enrichment of a home-based movie theater who are not able to travel out of town for that experience. As long as we can keep it state-of-the-art, keep it clean and keep it comfortable, there will be no need to leave town for a quality movie experience.”
Theatre Atchison was approached with a proposal to take on the project after it became clear that it is not a financially feasible venture for a for-profit company. In its current location, the project needs to be spearheaded by a nonprofit, Grossman said, which have certain advantages in regard to fundraising and taxation that make such a project feasible.
“Theatre Atchison is a trusted, well-known and well-managed organization. We have provided entertainment and enrichment to our community for over 30 years,” Grossman said. “It is fitting that we should spearhead the continuation of Atchison’s movie theater tradition, which began in 1912.”
According to information provided by the Atchison County Historical Society, the original Royal Theatre was built in 1912 as a vaudeville house, transitioning later to silent movies. By 1917, the theater was showing only movies.
In the 1930s, the theater was sold to Fox, which tore the building down and built the existing structure, which opened Jan. 27, 1949, according to the Historical Society.
The theater changed hands again in the 1980s and closed in 1985.
On Oct. 29, 1992, the Royal reopened with a local board raising $390,000 for renovations. Atchison native Ken Nagel was hired as the manager of the new twin-theater design, eventually paying off investors to become the owner outright.
However, the theater closed again in 2010.
Under the ownership of Theatre Atchison, Grossman is confident that the theater will be a success. He said that details about a fundraising campaign will be announced in coming months.