By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Barring any unforeseen problems, the long-awaited start of the Strand Theatre-Atmore Hardware Store renovation and restoration project is just a few weeks away.
Officials of Pride of Atmore, the group spearheading the project, reported that they had hoped construction would have already commenced. However, two stumbling blocks forced postponement until next month.
First, POA is still a few dollars short of raising enough money to complete the $3.6 million project, which is expected to be the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization that has already begun. Second, final state approval of a hefty set of plans has still not been granted.
POA Chairman Bub Gideons addressed the financial aspects, explaining that the group qualified for a loan to bridge the span between the start of the project and its anticipated final cost. But, he pointed out, the committee didn’t want to immediately encumber the project with a mortgage equal to the amount of the shortage.
“We’re going to start in March,” Gideons said. “The main reason it’s been put off since January is … the construction price puts us between $400,000 and $500,000 short on finishing up inside. We have the money to get our bridge loan, but that meant we would have to take out a separate loan for that difference. With the payment on a $500K loan, you have to have a lot of cash flow so …”
A recent spate of donations has helped boost confidence that the financing goal will eventually be attained.
“It’s looking good,” the POA chairman said. “We’re applying for another $35,000 grant, and we have a $150,000 (Letter of Intent) out for Daniel Foundation. Just since last Friday (February 5), Pride of Atmore has received a $35,000 donation from the Robert H. Maxwell Foundation, $20,000 from Friends of Education, and $8,500 from Atmore Agape Fund.
“Also, tickets for our Valentine baskets fundraiser are at this point over $3,000. We’re chip, chip, chipping away at that last bit we need so as not to have a mortgage on top of a bridge loan.”
Dale Ash, who heads POA’s Capital Campaign Committee with her sister Cindy Colville, explained that the project’s plans have to gain state approval before crews from Poarch-based Rolin Construction can begin their work.
“The Alabama Building Commission has to approve our 110-page plans before construction can begin,” she said. “The plans have been in Montgomery since December. Everyone tells us it’s a process, that there is no way to speed it up. Once the Alabama Building Commission approves the very detailed, historically based plans, construction can begin. That’s why we’re saying March.”
Ash said anyone interested in donating to the project could contact her by phone at 251-254-0833
Gideons, who has been part of the project since its inception, said he remains excited about the restoration of the 1930s-era theater and about the change that has already come over the city’s downtown area.
“It has been long time coming, longer for some of us than others, but I’m glad we’re part of everyone chipping in to make Atmore’s downtown strong again,” he said. “Businesses have swamped into downtown. It’s gone from where you couldn’t give a downtown space away, to where you can’t afford one, in just a few, short years. I’m excited see downtown Atmore coming back to life, and the Strand project has always been the center-focal point.”