State Theater Lives again

posted by marctee950 on June 4, 2007 at 3:55 pm

TRAVERSE CITY, MI — Michael Moore has announced that the Traverse City Film Festival has acquired the State Theatre. They have plans to keep the theatre open year-round and of course keep the film festival there.

Dear Traverse City Film Festival Volunteers,

I have some very good news for you. Yesterday at 10 a.m., I signed the papers that make the Traverse City Film Festival the new owner of the historic State Theatre in downtown Traverse City! That’s right — the film festival not only now has a permanent home, we are going to re-open the State Theatre as a year-round, state-of-the-art film theater showing the best of American independent, classic, and foreign cinema.

This resurrection of the State has been made possible through the generosity of Rotary Charities of Traverse City — until Tuesday, the owner of the building. They have “sold” it to us for a performance-based mortgage which states that the $600,000 “cost” of the theater is forgiven if we keep it open a certain number of days for at least five years. If we do, the mortgage is torn up and the theater is ours for free.

In order to bring the State back to life, it will take the active involvement of our area’s very large group of movie lovers — namely, you! Those of you who live in the Traverse City area know about the long history of a variety of groups trying to re-open the State. Each group attempted a major fundraising campaign to restore the theater. Sadly, their goals were not met, and the darkened theater changed hands a number of times.

In taking ownership of the theater (after a negotiation process that took 20 months), we have decided not to conduct such a major fundraising campaign. We decided that we just needed to open the theater once and for all. At last year’s founders party, I announced that I would personally be responsible for the $150,000 worth of projection and sound equipment needed to make the State a world-class theater. I then asked for one “angel” in the community to step forward and match me. Within 10 minutes, Buzz Wilson, one of the festival’s chief film sponsors, said he would pay for the improvements to the roof, a new handicap restroom, various other repairs to bring the building up to code — and a big new popcorn popper. Between what Buzz and I will do, the State can open this year.

But for the State to stay open — and to serve as the anchor of our beloved film festival — it will require the active participation of our friends group and anyone else who would love to see the State’s lights stay on for good.

In the coming weeks, we will announce the grand re-opening date and what we will need to sustain this wonderful, old movie palace. It will be staffed by volunteers and it will be supported by small donations from what we hope will be thousands of the State Theater’s new “members.” And if there is another angel or two who can help us repair the marquee or put air conditioning in the lobby, then please let us know who you are!

We’ll have much more to share with you next month as we get closer to the festival. For now, my fellow festival board members — John Robert Williams, Doug Stanton, Terry George and Larry Charles — our festival manager Deb Lake, and I wanted to let you hear the good news before it hits the media in a few hours. All of you, through your hard work and financial support, have made the festival what it has become — and you have brought us to this day where we now have a permanent home for all of those who love this art form we call the movies.

Thank you again for being part of something special.


Michael Moore
President, Traverse City Film Festival

PS. If you’re free at 9:30 this morning (Wednesday), come on down to the State for the big announcement.



Michael Moore, President

Marsha Smith, Executive Director

Traverse City Film Festival to Open Historic State Theatre Year-Round

Founders Promise a “World-Class, State-of-the-art Cinema That Will Rival America’s Top Art Houses”

Rotary Charities Transfers Building, Site Where Movies Have Played Since 1917

Traverse City, Mich. (May 30, 2007) – After over a decade of being dark, the lights on the marquee of the historic State Theatre in downtown Traverse City will once again come alive. The Traverse City Film Festival today accepted the deed to the theater from its most recent owner, Rotary Charities of Traverse City.

The building transfer by Rotary Charities was announced today at a joint press conference by Michael Moore, founder and president of the Traverse City Film Festival and Marsha Smith, executive director of Rotary Charities.

“It has been our dream since we started the festival two years ago to bring the State Theatre back to life and restore it to its glory as one of the great movie palaces of the Midwest,” Moore said. “Now, thanks to the generosity of Rotary Charities, people from all over northern Michigan will be able to see great films the way they were intended to be seen: projected on a big screen with great sound in an atmosphere where going to the movies can be an exhilarating experience.”

The film festival will own the building subject to a $600,000 mortgage. The mortgage requires the film festival to meet benchmarks set by Rotary Charities for the following five years. Once the film festival meets the benchmarks regarding the number of days the theater must be open, the mortgage will be terminated and the building will belong to the festival outright in 2012.

“The agreement is structured on a performance standard that has been mutually agreed upon and we feel is in the best interests of the community,” explained director Smith. “It is conditional on the festival meeting these standards, but basically it’s a gift to the film festival.”

Moore praised Rotary Charities and its role in negotiating the transfer agreement, noting that discussions with the group for the property were done in a spirit of collaboration, and with the goal of ultimately transferring ownership of the State Theatre and contributing to the vitality of the downtown. “Rotary Charities is responsible for bringing us to this point,” he said. The new home of the film festival will be the anchor venue of the popular weeklong summer event, which will mark its third season this August.

Smith hailed the collaboration and transfer agreement as being consistent with Rotary Charities' goal of a vital downtown Traverse City. “The film festival is in a prime position to accomplish those goals. Plus, its operation of the State Theatre will accommodate the region’s rich arts and cultural community and their needs. The continued vitality of downtown Traverse City and having the lights on year-round are visions we share with the film festival.”

Smith also recognized donors to the State Theatre Group’s fund drive, which was mounted several years ago to resurrect the downtown landmark. Those earlier investments not only preserved the building but also kept the dream alive of one day utilizing the State Theatre for some type of arts/cultural facility.

Moore announced that the grand opening of the newly refurbished State Theatre will take place sometime in 2007. An announcement will be made soon with details on the opening. “It will re-open 90 years after movies were first shown on that site on Front Street (when it was known as the Lyric Theater). It will be a big day for Traverse City and for movie lovers from around the state.”

In order to re-open the State — which no longer has projectors or a screen — Moore has used his connections in Hollywood to obtain nearly a quarter-million dollars worth of state-of-the-art projectors, a Dolby surround system and a new 40-ft screen.

“It’s probably the biggest screen within 200 miles of here,” said festival board member and co-founder John Robert Williams.

Installation will be provided by Deluxe Film Labs of Hollywood and supervised by Chapin Cutler of Boston Light and Sound, the man responsible for putting together the theaters at the Sundance and Telluride film festivals.

“When we are finished, the State Theatre will rival the top art house cinemas in the country,” Williams said. “There are probably only a handful of movie palaces that will have the top-of-the-line quality and equipment the State will have.”

Doug Stanton, another festival co-founder and board member, believes that the re-opening of the State means more than just operating a top-notch facility.

“I saw my first movie there when I was five (it was "Mary Poppins”), and I also saw one of the last movies to be shown there with my son, who was in a stroller at the time,“ Stanton said. "And then the State closed, and it seemed it would never reopen as a movie theater. Now my son is in high school and he’ll volunteer for the film festival, and he also wants to volunteer at the State. I’ve worked to open the theater because not only will its new life, a reincarnation of the magic I felt being there as a kid, improve our quality of life here, but it will act as a gathering place for people of all ages.”

The festival board is asking the community to join in on the refurbishing effort. A handicap bathroom needs to be built, the roof has a leak, the lobby needs air conditioning, and curtains need to be hung, among other things.

“We have a definite to-do list before we can open,” Williams said. “Rotary has essentially given this theater to the community and the film festival board is its steward. But we can’t do this alone. We need donations, we need skilled craftsmen, and we need some good old-fashioned elbow grease. Anyone wanting to contribute should call us at 231-392-1134. This will only work if it is a community effort.”

Williams and the other board members, including “Borat” director Larry Charles and “Hotel Rwanda” director Terry George, believe that the community will respond to the possibility of the State being open year-round — just as it did when the film festival was launched in the summer of 2005. Hundreds of volunteers came down to Front St. to bring the State back to temporary life so the festival could show movies there for a week.

“I was amazed by the community response,” said George. “I had been to many festivals and had never seen anything quite like it.”

Charles added, “Having had my daughters in the Interlochen program, I’ve known for some time what a great destination the Traverse City area is. The resurrection of the State will only add to the area being known as the place to go for great film, art and culture.”

In order to re-open the State, though, one huge hurdle had to be overcome. When local resident Barry Cole bought the State Theatre from GKC Cinemas in 1996, GKC insisted on a deed restriction that said “no first or second-run movies will be shown at the State for 25 years.” That clause effectively killed using the State as a movie theater until 2022. When Carmike Cinemas bought the GKC Theaters in Traverse City in 2005, they also acquired the deed restriction on the State Theatre.

Moore, whose movies play at Carmike Cinemas across the country, approached the Georgia-based chain and asked them to amend the deed restriction to allow films to be shown at the State.

“They were very interested in being a good neighbor,” Moore said. “I told them we were not interested in competing with them. Our desire is to bring good movies that usually don’t make it to Traverse City. I found them instantly agreeable to helping out downtown Traverse City.”

Carmike amended the deed restriction to allow the State to show any film that opens on 200 screens or less. And if the festival wants to show films that open wider, “all we have to do is ask and they have indicated they will be supportive. This means we will be able to program the theater exactly the way we want to,” says Moore.

All of this, the festival believes, will make going to a movie at the State a great and inexpensive way to spend an evening in downtown Traverse City.

Of course, this is music to the ears of the downtown merchants and restaurant owners who have long hoped to see the lights of the State turned on again, attracting people to downtown Traverse City.

“This is incredibly good news for downtown Traverse City,” said Leisa Eckerle Hankins, president of the Downtown Traverse City Association. “We believe that the movies at the State will bring people downtown, not just to see a movie, but to make a night out of it. We are all grateful to Mr. Moore, Mr. Stanton, Mr. Williams, the film festival and the good people of Rotary Charities.” She added that the merchants see the State as “the anchor” a thriving downtown needs.

The festival, a non-profit organization, initially plans to have the theater open on weekends in the winter and seven days a week in the summer. “If there is a greater demand for it, we will expand the number of showings,” said festival manager Deb Lake. “Ticket prices and concessions will be kept low and reasonable.” Lake said that the theater will be staffed primarily with volunteers “but our projectionists will be professionally-trained.”

Lake also said that the festival hopes to make the State available to other community groups interested in showing movies there. “We really see this as the community’s movie house,” she said. “It is going to be one of the best things to happen in Traverse City in years.”

Last year, Rotary Charities acquired both the State Theatre and adjacent Smith/Kurtz building on East Front Street. It sold the Smith/Kurtz parcel last fall to Dan Marsh, a chef and entrepreneur. He’s presently renovating the over 100-year-old, three-story building to accommodate a ground-floor restaurant, and developing residential or commercial condominiums on the top two floors.

According to director Smith, Charities' goal in purchasing both buildings was to ultimately transfer them and use the proceeds to create a separate fund for cultural arts.


Since its inception in the mid-70’s, Rotary Charities has distributed over $34 million in the form of over 500 grants to organizations and non-profits in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie, Kalkaska and Antrim counties.

The public foundation was formed following the discovery in July of 1976 of valuable oil and natural gas reserves on property owned by the Traverse City Rotary Club. Its purpose over the years has been to distribute income generated from the oil and gas royalties to organizations throughout the five-county region of Northwest Michigan.


The Traverse City Film Festival is a charitable, educational, nonprofit organization committed to showing “Just Great Movies” and helping to save one of America’s few indigenous art forms – the cinema. Founded by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore and local co-founders photographer John Robert Williams and New York Times best-selling author Doug Stanton, with filmmakers Larry Charles and Terry George rounding out the Board of Directors, the festival brings films and filmmakers from around the world to northern Michigan, creating a level of excitement one local paper said was “the best thing to happen here since the Ice Age left us Lake Michigan.”

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Comments (1)

vic1964 on June 4, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Michael Moore is the man,i wish we had more like him.

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