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Nonprofit awaits title to Columbia Theatre

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

One of Paducah's more recognizable historic buildings is expected to have new ownership soon.

At the next City Commission meeting, the city plans to transfer ownership of the Columbia Theatre to the Columbia Club, a nonprofit that aims to rehabilitate it. An ordinance deeming the theater property surplus and transferring it to the club was introduced at Tuesday's meeting and likely will be voted on at the commission's April 8 meeting.

The action will transfer 510 through 514 Broadway to the club for $1. The property was advertised, but no other bids were received.

"It's a great but scary step forward," Columbia Club's Landee Bryant said. "There's a very dedicated task force of volunteers, who have passion to make this happen. We're making small steps toward our goal."

The club's goal is to have the Columbia rehabilitated and renovated by 2017, in time for the theater's 90th birthday. The renovations would allow for a 250-seat main auditorium along with a larger lobby with more extensive amenities. Upstairs, the mezzanine would be split into two screening areas, one with 140 seats and another with 114. The plans add an elevator for upstairs access, cut backstage space and expand bathrooms.

Renovations are estimated to cost $5.8 million. Grants at the federal and state levels could cover part of that expense, but the Columbia Club is planning massive fundraising. Transferring ownership is the first step, Bryant said, and enables the club to apply for a state-funded brownfield grant, which would contribute $50,000 toward cleaning out asbestos and lead paint.

The city cannot apply for the brownfield grant, so the transfer is needed to start the application process. The application is due in mid-April. If the grant does not come through for the club, the property will transfer back to city ownership.

The Columbia Club has come together for several cleanup days, and after the asbestos and lead paint are removed, volunteers hope to allow the public to look through the historic theater to help fundraising.

"It sounds cliché but every time I go in there, it's overwhelming," Bryant said. "I am biased because I am in love with the building, but every time I walk in there it hits me like a brick that it exists. That's the goal: getting people in there after cleanup. You have to see it. To me, it's as grand as it seems."

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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