City OKs buying Carroll Theater


The city of Westminster officially approved last night the $310,000 purchase of the Carroll Theater, paving the way for a performing and community arts center downtown.

In a brief meeting, the Westminster Common Council exercised its option to buy the 70-year-old Main Street building from the Church of the Open Door, which has owned the property about 10 years and held its Sunday bus ministry services there.

With an estimated $500,000 in renovations, the former movie theater will become the center for the Carroll County Arts Council, which has about 1,000 members.

The city commissioned two appraisals of the building. Both exactly matched the $310,000 in Planned Open Space money the state has made available for the project, said Thomas B. Beyard, city director of planning and public works. The funding must ultimately be authorized by the state Board of Public Works.

"We can request 100 percent reimbursements with the support of the appraisals," said Beyard, who expects the state to fund the project within the next few months.

In the meantime, the city will use its surplus funds to complete the purchase and pay for preliminary engineering and design.

The project had the council's unanimous support. Councilman Greg Pecoraro called it "a wonderful opportunity to get a lot of use out of this space."

The theater project would mark a westward expansion of the city's Main Street revitalization efforts. In the last five years, the business community has invested millions of dollars in renovations along the thoroughfare, including Harry's Main Street Grille and the old J. C. Penney building.

"A cultural center has been on the city's plate for about 10 years," said Beyard. "In this location, it would provide stability to West Main Street and keep arts council programs in the downtown area. The arts council is a viable player, and it is important that it stays in Westminster."

Members of the arts council, now housed on the lower level of an office building on Main Street, have said they would be delighted with the more visible location, particularly one that offers a stage for performing arts.

Beyard expects money for the renovation to come from governmental and private sources. The council also authorized $50,000 for the acquisition and architectural, engineering and other design costs.

"We are restoring an old building with a lot of history in the city and demonstrating a desire to continue revitalizing our city," said Mayor Kenneth Yowan, who, 10 years ago, served on the Downtown Renaissance Committee that recommended an arts center.

Residents are hungry for cultural events and are interested in nostalgia, Yowan said. Creating an arts center from an aging theater fills those needs.

"Most of us are looking for something that will enrich our busy lives," he said. "The Arts Council certainly does that. And, by having this facility, we will have yet another venue for all groups who want to perform."

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