When word got out earlier this year that Belfast, Maine’s, historic Colonial Theatre — a quaint venue in turn-key condition — had closed last fall and was in urgent need of a new owner, many people took notice.
Moviegoers across the country couldn’t bear to see such a place, nestled in a charming coastal city, go dark. Some openly daydreamed online about uprooting their lives and moving to the community to take over the property, with its neon signage and old-fashioned decor.
Comedian John Hodgman even helped promote a fund-raiser aimed at rescuing it.
But for those who worried it might be time to roll the credits on the 110-year-old slice of movie history, don’t toss out your freshly popped popcorn just yet: The Colonial officially has a new owner, and will reopen next month.
In the end, it was a pair of new arrivals to the community who stepped forward to buy the property, the sale of which is set to close in a matter of days.
Libby Catania, who is purchasing the theater with her husband, Bill, said in a statement that she hoped the theater will “provide a gathering place, helping people feel a sense of connection while enjoying performances that can open hearts and minds.”
The Catanias, according to a statement, moved to the area just last year and own a retreat in nearby Searsport, called the Limina Renewal Center. They plan to hand the building over to a nonprofit, called the Hawthorne Theatre & Arts Collaborative, which will run day-to-day operations (”Hawthorne” is the name given to the well-known fiberglass elephant statue that has sat atop the Colonial for many years).
The nonprofit’s mission will be to turn the theater into a hub not just of blockbusters and independent cinema, but also live theater, musical performances, stand-up comedy, lectures, community meetings, and other events that will take advantage of the ample space inside.
“I’m extremely excited for this,” said Kyle Walton, the nonprofit’s executive director. “It’s taken a lot of thought and vision. And I’m looking forward to applying it towards what the Colonial can be.”
Walton said he’s a longtime patron of the theater, and was an on-and-off employee there since his junior year of high school. He was its operations manager before it closed.
His organization is now raising money to help fund its operations, and an anonymous donor has offered a $50,000 match toward the project. The group is also looking for donors, sponsors, volunteers, and anyone else interested in lending a hand as the theater gets up and running again.
The plan is to host a re-launch event in early November, and reopen with a full schedule Wednesdays through Sundays beginning Nov. 15.
Those invested in the story of how the Colonial Theatre persisted can expect to learn more from a documentary about it, called “The Big Picture,” that is currently in production.
Filmmaker Anne Continelli has been following the theater’s tale this year. She also made a film, “Citizen Coolidge,” which chronicled the efforts to save the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.