Lyric Theater ribbon cutting 01-04-2023

ST. PAUL, Va. — “I lovingly refer to the Lyric as a box with a marquee, and the marquee was fabulous,” St. Paul Tomorrow Main Street Manager Kathy Stewart said two years ago. “And it will be fabulous again.”

Stewart joined town, regional and state officials last Wednesday to cut the ribbon for the renovated Lyric Theater and show the public it is more than a box.

The $4.75 million project started with the town purchasing the 72-year-old movie house in 2013. Since then, funding from state and federal agencies, foundations, local corporations and individual donors paid for structural work, re-creating some of the old theater seating and building new meeting spaces to make it a downtown focal point.

Inside, the theater balcony anchors a two-level set of glass-walled meeting spaces overlooking the stage and ground-floor seating for about 200 people. Two more meeting rooms behind the balcony area add to the theater’s multiuse community role.

“It has been a really long journey, and even though we’re not at the end of the journey, we’re far enough along so that we want to share it with all of you, and we want to see that you are as excited about it as we are,” St. Paul Tomorrow board chair Juanita Kelly said at the grand opening. “We’re on a high, and it’s a great day to be in St. Paul.”

“If you grew up around here, this was probably the happening place in town,” said St. Paul Mayor Kenneth Holbrook. “You came here to hang out with your buddies. You might even bring your date here, or you actually might come and watch a movie. This was the place, and when it closed, it was a sad time here. We all missed it greatly.”

The theater shut down in the late 1980s, almost 40 years after it opened as a competitor to two other downtown movie theaters. It was the last one to close its doors. Holbrook said the Lyric has a personal connection for him, since he worked there when the Whitenack family operated it starting in the 1960s.

“I actually worked here when I was in high school, and that’s where I got my start on my degree in bathroom plunging and bathroom cleaning,” Holbrook said to the crowd’s laughter.

Stewart, whom Kelly and Holbrook both cited for her dedication to the project, said the combination of government and private support was key to the opening event.

“We had generous support from these funders,” said Stewart. “St. Paul Tomorrow has been a driving force for fundraising. In the last 10 years, we’ve raised over $100,000 that we were able to put to this. Because of the volunteer work and the great funders that we’ve had, we’re going into this project debt-free.”

Stewart said the Lyric project also strengthened her friendship with classmate and now-Town Manager Debora Baca.

“We were friends in high school,” Stewart said of Baca, “but we’ve become really close in the last several years because we’ve dealt with the financing and managing this project, and it’s been a great experience.”

Stewart also credited First Bank and Trust with helping the town, and St. Paul Tomorrow will be able to use historical tax credits to cover some project costs.

Baca said the funding package for the Lyric project included:

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• $500,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission

• $550,000 from the Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development Industrial Revitalization Fund

• $100,000 from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority

• $1.85 million in historical tax credits

• $1 million from St. Paul

• $400,000 in fundraising and grants from the Slemp and Gin Ann foundations

St. Paul Food City Manager Kathy Edwards added a $25,000 corporate donation for the project after the ribbon cutting.

“We have to keep that going, and that’s very important to continue to support the project, support the community and this region with this project,” Stewart added.

Amber Burke, the Lyric’s new general manager, emphasized Stewart’s role in the project by showing her a plaque naming the theater’s green room after her.

“It’s a great way to honor Kathy, her passion, her motivation, her drive, and this would not have been possible without her,” said Burke.

With most of the project complete, Stewart said new cloth wall coverings in the style of the Lyric’s heyday as a movie house and enclosure of the theater office should be finished this spring.

The theater hosted its first show Thursday, when Eastside High School students performed their state award-winning one-act play, “Walkin’ Suzie,” at 7 p.m.

“It’s such a joy to me, full circle, from a child with theatrical dreams to be able to see this facility come to fruition,” said Burke. “For programming, we’re very excited to offer everything from music concerts to theatrical performances.”

The Slemp Foundation has also awarded a grant for the Lyric Children’s Chorus, which is planning a spring concert.

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