DECATUR — More than a year since the iconic Lincoln Square Theatre closed its doors in downtown Decatur, there’s no reopen date in sight as the theater’s leadership continues to grapple with financial challenges.
Theater board President Greg Sullivan said he faces a Catch-22: The board needs more money to restore the century-old theater, but they can’t host any revenue-generating shows until they find the cash to repair a busted boiler.
“Until we can get that addressed, we are pretty much sitting still,” he said, adding he did not have an exact dollar amount to replace the boiler. “We’re putting plans together, but we cannot really start a capital campaign until we have the theater open. People won’t donate until they see this thing operating.”
Sullivan told the Herald & Review in November that this year would be dedicated to filling open spots on the 12-member board and raising money to address pressing issues, including the boiler. As of Friday, the board had eight members — two fewer than it did in November.
By the 1980s, the theater had become too dilapidated to host shows, with renovations finally beginning in the 1990s.
In 2002, the state granted the Lincoln $3.5 million for renovations but didn’t deliver the full amount until 2005. At that time, the theater had seats missing, paint and plaster falling off the wall, a damaged stage and no fire escapes. The first phase of renovations corrected these problems, as well as adding air conditioning and lighting, fixing bathrooms and dressing rooms and repairing the marquee.
The theater closed in 2005 for additional renovations and has been open on and off ever since. It sat dormant for more than a year between 2014 and 2015 before the board decided to begin offering more events to generate revenue.
The theatre board lost its tax-exempt status in 2014 after it failed to file a Form 990-series return or notice for three consecutive years, according to Internal Revenue Service records. The most recent filing available for review from 2010. Sullivan said the paperwork to restore its tax-exempt status should be completed by the end of the year.
As the behind-the-scenes work continues, the theater has gone quiet across social media.
The group has not posted on its official Facebook page since May 8, 2017. That post, attributed to theater staff, said it was only closed “for the time being” as they regrouped and came up with new ideas. The post also promised the website “will be up within the week” to offer updates.
However, the URL is not available for sale, according to multiple sites that check domain availability.
Sullivan declined Herald & Review requests for a tour of the building, saying insurance prevented anyone but certain board members from going inside.
Members of Decatur’s art scene still hold out hope for the future of the theater, which as recently as 2013 hosted a Decatur Celebration kick-off concert featuring novelty funk band Here Come the Mummies.
Celebration producer Lori Sturgill said her experience has shown her that Decatur can be just as passionate about live shows as those in Springfield and Champaign, and she sees no reason why a restored Lincoln could not thrive.
“I think a venue that historic in our community is a treasure, that we’d love to be able to utilize in a modern way,” Sturgill said.
The Lincoln is one of two century-old theatres in downtown Decatur. The nearly 102-year-old Avon Theater is still in operation as a movie theatre.
Sullivan, who has served on the Lincoln board for two years, said he wasn’t concerned with the past pattern of failed efforts to restore the theater. He said he was determined to focus on establishing a capital campaign and applying for potential grants that could make the space usable.
“I know for us, we’re not about returning it to museum quality,” he said. “We just want to get the doors open again.”