Historic Allen’s Opera House on track to becoming new Cozad movie theatre

A three screen movie theater layout is being planned for the Allen’s Opera House, after a community needs survey. The Cozad Development Corporation purchased the location and found it would work as a theater.

COZAD — What once was the site of entertainment for historic Cozad will once again play host to popular entertainment for the town, with a few modern updates.

The Allen’s Opera House was built by Charles Hart and a Mr. Shanholt in 1906 for Charles E. Allen, a business man and banker who co-owned the Cozad State Bank and the Allen’s General Store, both businesses were located on the first floor of the building, according to the National Register of Historic Places.

The building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since Sept. 28, 1988. Its construction is consistent with most Nebraska opera houses built in the 20th century, the façade lacks ornamentation, aside from stone ledges above and below the windows, according to the building’s historic registration form.

The building played host to a variety of preforming arts including musical concerts, home talent, high school productions, the actor Eugene Moore, touring stock companies, dialect plays, minstrel shows and the performance of classics like “The Climax,” “St. Elmo,” “Weary Willie Walker,” “The Wolf,” and “Lena Rivers.”

The opera house was at the height of its significance as a place of entertainment from 1906 to 1917. Now the location will once again provide an entertainment venue for the 100th Meridian community.

Cozad Development Corporation Executive Director Jennifer McKeone said they had held a comprehensive plan exercise and the Wilson Public Library conducted their own community needs survey.

One thing which kept coming up again and again in both was the need for a movie theatre in town. McKeone said a company hired by the CDC did an entertainment feasibility study and the results came back promising.

The CDC then began weighing its options of building a new theatre, but then the CDC acquired the historic Allen’s Opera House. After a structural survey of the building, the CDC applied for a grant to help turn the location into a movie theatre.

The grant comes from the Civic Center and Community Financing Fund through the state department. The grant won’t be the only source of funding for the project, McKeone said they will be using contributions, and looking to other foundations for funding. The CDC has also pledged financial support for the project, she said.

The layout and fine details of the project are still being planned out, but McKeone expects to begin soliciting bids by December of this year. “We don’t expect to start swinging a hammer until after the start of the year,” McKeone said about a 2020 start date.

While the CDC will own the building itself, it will be leased to Stewart Fox of Broken Bow. His family has operated the Tiffany Theater for more than 15 years. They will run the day to day operations of the theater.

All of the building space will be needed for the theater, which necessitates the move of the businesses located there. Sweetwater Outfitters, owned by Chelsie Michalewicz has already moved to a new location on the same street, just on the other side of Mode Boutique.

McKeone said Riley’s Hair Salon is still looking for a new location to move into and doesn’t plan on moving until they have to. The salon is still exploring their options, she said.

The layout currently allows for three screens for the theater, one large room and two smaller ones, McKeone said. The space will also allow for meeting rooms and places for local art to be on display.

She said the theater will have the latest technology for the projector and the sound system. “There won’t be a theater like this in 50 miles,” said McKeone. Movies will be shown seven days a week once the theater is up and operational.

“We are excited and hope the community is excited,” McKeone said, “We don’t expect to impact the Gothenburg and Lexington theaters, this will only add to the opportunities in the area.”

The CDC plans to maintain the historic integrity to the building during its change over to a movie theater. McKeone said the ceilings and the window sizes will be maintained. The CDC is not perusing a federal tax credit for the historic building, if they were, there would be more stringent requirements from the state.

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