By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
After several “false starts,” work has finally begun on the renovation and rehabilitation of the Strand Theatre and former Atmore Hardware Store.
Rolin Construction crews have started tearing out floorboards, seats, wall coverings and other portions of the venerable theater, which turned 100 years old this year, and the adjoining hardware store, which has stood for 121 years.
The local company has rented space behind the Greater Escambia Council for the Arts building to store materials and has set up operations in the building formerly occupied by Hazel’s Curl Country.
“We’re officially under way, and we are happy to see it started,” said Bub Gideons, president of Pride of Atmore (POA), which is spearheading the project, which encompasses more than 9,000 square feet of venue space. “We’re behind schedule, so it’s good to get things going.”
Rising costs of construction materials during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the original plan, which called for work to start in March of this year.
The delay allowed POA to continue the fundraising end of the project, and Gideons said the organization has been able to build up a nest egg for the costliest portion of the renovation.
“We’ve kept on churning and churning,” he said. “We were able to build up our money in the bank, so we signed a contract with Rolin to go ahead and start. Finishing out costs more than the outside work, so we have to watch our money and keep fundraising, although we’re at a point where we can start building. We’re happy that we’re at a point where we and the contractor are comfortable that completion of the project is insured.”
Although the project was apparently eligible for federal stimulus money for sheltered venues, no such funds were forthcoming.
The project is expected to take about a year to complete, although unforeseeable circumstances — such as rain or hurricanes — could stretch the timetable. Gideons said POA would use that time to continue to build its cash reserves.
We’ve been actively fundraising for more than a couple of years,” he explained. “Once we got down to where we could expand the floor plan and include the other building, the campaign committee really came together. During the year it takes to finish it, we should be able to collect enough money to pay for everything.”
He said most of the credit for the successful campaign should go to Dale Ash, Cindy Colville and Foster Kizer, who combined to write most of the grant applications that have been awarded the project.
“They really put the pedal to the metal,” he said.
He pointed out again that although work has started, money is still needed.
“We’re thankful to everybody who has given to us,” said Gideons. “We’re not through fundraising, we’ve just started building. We’ve got some work to do. What we’ve raised so far won’t pay for everything we have to do. If it takes a year, and we get in what we usually get in a year, we should be good.”
Gideons said the revitalization project, now that it has started, would move full steam ahead.
“They’re going full-tilt, and they’re not going to stop for anything,” he said of the Rolin crews. “We’ll have to fundraise for the next year to complete the building, but we are excited to see it.”
The POA president said several of the theater’s 189 seats have been “sold” (meaning that a plaque with the donor’s name will be affixed to the rear of the seat) but many are still available for a donation of $500 each.
Anyone wishing to donate to the project may do so by visiting prideofatmore.com and using the “donate” button. Those who want to make a memorial donation or purchase a seat can call Kizer at 251-583-6009.