During the past year, members of the Harlem Foundation have toured theaters in towns throughout Georgia to gather ideas on renovating the historical theater in Harlem's downtown.
The most recent trip occurred in October, when four members traveled to Elberton and viewed the Elbert Theatre to learn more about the facility and the city's renovation process. They want to apply that information to renovations for Columbia Theatre on South Louisville Street.
"The buildings are pretty parallel, and we wanted to see a finished product," said Ann Blalock, the Harlem Foundation's president. "They felt it was kind of the catalyst to bringing that old downtown back to life."
Renovation on Harlem's theater started more than two years ago, Councilwoman Robin Root said, but was slowed down when the architect was changed. So far, the building's roof has been replaced.
"Having an architect makes all the difference, especially when they know a lot about theaters," she said.
An architect has now been selected, Blalock said.
Funding, possibly from state and federal grants, and public, corporate and personal donations, will be the next step.
The Elbert Theater was built in 1940. In 2001, it became a performing arts center.
"It was just real interesting to see some of the things they thought were successes and some of the things they warned us about not doing," Blalock said.
Root, who also toured the theater, said she liked Elbert Theatre's sloped flooring and dinner theater option.
"My ultimate goal is to see it (the Columbia Theatre) open and people actually enjoying it," Root said.
Harlem officials bought the Columbia Theatre, which was built in 1949 and housed a variety of businesses, in January 2005.
Blalock said she would like to see it used as an arts center, meeting area and a location to hold drama, art and dance workshops for both children and adults.
She also said she would like to incorporate a time for storytelling.
"The theater is ideally located in the center of town, and there's a lot of people who just want to see it back," she said.
Blalock said she has visited theaters in such Georgia towns as Warrenton, Fitzgerald, Columbus and Colquitt.
Eventually, Blalock said, she would like to hold a fundraising drive.
"There's a lot of mystique about theaters," she said. "They cross all cultural and ethnic borders. It just conjures up pleasant memories."
She said she wants the renovated Columbia to build on Harlem's already rich history.
The group plans to visit other theaters before developing a final plan for the renovation, Blalock said.
"Within the next year, I think you'll see some progress," she said. "There might even be a marquee up there."
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