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Plaza Theatre revival project resurrects the silver screen

By Tara Pettit

Photo: Plans are underway to restore Miamisburg’s Plaza Theatre by mid-summer

When Doug Sorrell first began making plans to restore the old Plaza Theatre that was long ago a part of Miamisburg, he envisioned the theater’s return as the missing link to the city’s downtown growth. He was confident the restored theater would serve several purposes, namely as an added attraction to an area that has seen retail businesses come and go. Even more than simply contributing to downtown’s economic growth, however, Sorrell, coordinator of the rebuild, has taken the project a step further, committing to help strengthen community partnerships with the revival of Plaza Theatre, while re-ushering a deep sense of nostalgia back to Miamisburg through the project’s focus on reviving classic film showings.

With the building reconstruction blueprints in hand, major donors in the process of being secured and funding underway for specific elements unique to the resurrection of the building, plans for the Plaza Theatre are quickly progressing with an expected re-opening date sometime in mid-summer.

“I feel really good about the publicity we’ve started generating and the interest people are starting to show,” Sorrell said. “We believe that this will be a very unique film offering. There are theaters here and there that will show a classic movie every once and a while, but that’s all we’re going to do.”

The Plaza Theatre originally opened its doors on Christmas Day in 1919, operating as a traditional first-run movie theater. Since the theater’s closing, the building has been used to operate various retail businesses, including a retail store owned by Sorrell’s family, and was eventually sold as a vacant space to a private buyer. After watching the building’s years of vacancy pass, Sorrell was inspired to initiate “what we believe is the next piece of the puzzle in the revival of downtown Miamisburg.”

“Today, Miamisburg is a place where 71 percent of the people come to dine,” Sorrell explained. “Those of us on the committee who want to reopen the theater realize that if we can get people already going downtown to dine, giving another option for something to do for a few hours helps the area businesses. That’s kind of what our goal is.”

Sorrell further explained downtown Miamisburg’s evolution into a dining district where many people frequent the area for restaurants like Bullwinkle’s Top Hat Bistro, TJ Chumps, and Anticoli’s Giuliano Tavern, which has influenced the planning process of the movie theater’s operations. The team has been going to these businesses for input on ideal movie schedules that coincide with peak dining hours, forming a sort of business partnership in collaboration of working towards a more prosperous downtown Miamisburg.

Additionally, the project committee decided against placing a robust concession area in the movie theater in the spirit of encouraging future movie-goers to dine before, or after, at one of the neighboring restaurants.

“That makes it a little more of a challenge because we are told that 90 percent of a movie theater’s net profit comes from the concession stand,” Sorrell said. “We realize we’re giving that up and we’re consciously doing that. We don’t want to compete with anyone wanting to go to one of the fine places to eat in downtown Miamisburg.”

Because of the team’s conscious effort to be community oriented, the reopening of the Plaza Theatre has become a project that is 100 percent community supported.

The project has even secured volunteer support from some of Dayton’s most experienced professionals in the film and theater industry to help with the direction of the rebuild. The core committee of 10 includes a previous employee of Disney and the Kennedy Center, as well as a key figure in the movement to save the Victoria Theater.

“We have folks on our team who share our vision and have the same kind of passion for it,” Sorrell said. “We think we will be successful at this.”

Plans for the types of films to be shown at Plaza Theatre will be right down the people of Miamisburg’s alley, according to Sorrell. The theater will be showing all classic films from history’s 100 greatest films list, all of the time, which is another important goal of the project.

“I think there’s a real interest in nostalgia here … and that’s what we’re into,” Sorrell said.

It’s also become evidently clear that nostalgia for old film and television is growing, Sorrell further adds, when you notice TV stations like ME TV on regular programming playing continuous shows from the ’60s and ’70s. Or, when you see first-run theaters hosting “throwback” movie nights.

Along with the resurrection of the physical structure, the Plaza Theatre project will effectively resurrect a nostalgia for the past with plans to feature anything from early silent films to more recent films up through 2009 that have made the top 100 greatest films list. The Plaza Theatre will have 90 years worth of film to bring to the public, a feature of the theater not replicated by any other movie house in the Dayton area, Sorrell said. Additionally, the Plaza Theatre will have the capability to show films both digitally and on 35 millimeter film in a theater that will seat 250.

“I don’t think actors, actresses, directors and even film studios intended to have their movies watched on a 65-inch TV screen or the latest mobile tablet,” Sorrell said. “Their intent was to have them be shown on a full silver screen, with full theater sound … for a film experience. I think there’s a nostalgia for that, and that’s where we are coming from.”

For more information on the Plaza Theater revival project, or to find out how you can donate to the project, please call Doug Sorrell at 937.673.2440.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tara Pettit at TaraPettit@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tara Pettit
Tara Pettit is a regional journalist and communications specialist with a focus on the arts, social/environmental justice issues, and community activism. She is passionate about cultivating intentional community and engaging in collaborative creative projects that make healthy community possible. Reach her at TaraPettit@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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