Group raises money to reopen E. Iowa movie theater

DES MOINES – Members of a preservation group working to reopen a nearly century-old movie theater in the center of a small eastern Iowa town acknowledge it will take time, but they are confident they can rally support and raise enough money to carry the project through.

The Hardacre Theatre in Tipton, a city of 3,200 people about 20 miles east of Iowa City, closed its doors indefinitely in August to the dismay of residents who relied on its one screen to provide local entertainment.

A handful of residents formed the Hardacre Theater Preservation Association around April 2012 after the theater owner said he might shut down the business because of the high costs of upgrading to digital movies. Just over a year later those plans became a reality.

“The theater has been a center part of downtown Tipton for a long, long time,” said Greg Brown, president of the association’s board. “When you start losing any business out of small towns like Tipton, that just contributes to the overall deterioration of the downtown area.”

The theater opened as an opera house in 1916. It became a movie theater in 1919.

The group is raising money to buy the theater from the current owner before getting more funds to renovate it. They’re working toward collecting $96,100 and have about 40 percent of that pledged. They plan to extend a deadline to buy the theater for January.

The building is structurally sound, but there are problems that need to be addressed if it’s reopened. That includes electrical and plumbing updates, as well as a new roof.

“There’s a lot of work that has to be done to it,” Brown said. “But the overall bones of the building are fairly solid.”

Brown said once the property belongs to the group, members want to raise more money to not only upgrade to digital film, but to enhance the theater into a venue that offers multiple community events aside from movies. They estimate it will cost between $1.5 million and $2 million to renovate the theater.

The theater’s future is also linked to the Hardacre Film Festival, which is considered the longest running film festival in Iowa, said Will Valet, vice president of the preservation board. The festival’s 16th annual gathering was held just before the theater closed its doors.

Valet, who also serves as festival director, said it’s too early to tell if the festival will be held at the theater next year or if it will be relocated or put on hold for a year.

“It’s all kind of up in the air right now,” he said. “Ultimately, the goal is to get the festival to remain in the theater. Having the festival in an old-fashioned movie house is really a big part of its appeal. Holding it in another type of venue would really lose a lot of the luster.”