Dowagiac getting a theater

Published 4:56 pm Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mr. K’s Wearhouse will be renovated into a movie theater, with apartments above.

Mr. K’s Wearhouse will be renovated into a movie theater, with apartments above.

Nine months from now Dowagiac should have a movie theater downtown again.

Forrest Fin, LLC, Thursday morning closed on the purchase of Mr. K’s from First State Bank of Decatur.

Developer Ken Allen of Silver Creek Township, who returned the State Theatre in South Bend, Ind., to its 1920s look in March 1994 before selling it in 2006, plans initially to develop a one-screen movie theater and arcade on the main floor with three apartments on the second floor.

A second screen could be added within the following year.

He also plans to develop the lower level down the road, perhaps as a comedy club.

Allen said no name has been selected, but it should seat 120 to 140 people.

This project has been percolating since 2010.

Allen initially explored the former Woolworth’s building, which was a theater when the central business district had three, and KFC before it became Front Street Crossing of the Cass County Council on Aging.

Taking a fresh look in May 2012, Mr. K’s historic 19th century building, where Ken Schutter operated a clothing store and a baseball museum fell through, became a possibility.

Economic development officials, including Vickie Phillipson, Downtown Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce program director; Cindy LaGrow, economic development coordinator; Marilyn Smith of Smith Housing, who oversees the city’s rental rehabilitation program; and listing agent Chris Moore with Freedom Realty in Niles have been working as a team with Allen on a financial assistance package.

The project involves rental rehab funds for the upper level, the blight elimination program through historic preservation and the city’s revolving loan program.

“The end-project promises to be huge for the downtown and the entire community,” Phillipson said.

A cinema has been LaGrow’s white whale. When she first came to town from Berrien County 15 years ago and surveyed the business community, landing a hotel, department store and theater consistently made up the top three, with Baymont (Amerihost) and Shopko (Pamida) coming here.

“It’s almost unheard of to bring a movie theater downtown,” LaGrow said, “so we’re excited. I’m glad he picked Dowagiac. He has been very dedicated to Dowagiac. We owe him a lot. He does a good job. He has a vision and will pull it off.”

Allen is no stranger to the immediate area, acquiring The Legacy on Round Lake at Sister Lakes in February and opening it in June as a weekend entertainment venue with a mechanical bull.

The Indiana native previously redeveloped and owned three other theaters, starting in 1982 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with a movie house closed for 15 years.

He went west after serving in the Marines.

For 25 years he has been collaborating on projects with Jerry Jager, who divides his time between Surprise, Ariz., and Colorado.

Next, Allen brought back a theater in Watseka, Ill., that had been closed for 10 years.

Allen, whose sons operate Taz Construction of Niles, also once owned the Tivoli Theater in downtown Mishawaka before its February 2005 demolition.