Vanessa Cook and Theresa Barcus, both of Norwalk, have purchased the building at 57 E. Main St. While Cook declined to say what the sale price was, she said the purchase process started about a year ago, along with securing the funds.
In 2018, Cook and Barcus formed the Norwalk Arts Center LLC, which plans to reopen the theater in the spring of 2019. Part of its vision is having “a dedicated space to grow the arts in Norwalk and surrounding communities,” according to the NAC website.
“We are a registered non-profit organization with the secretary of state. We are going to function that way,” said Cook, who noted NAC is seeking donations for programming and operations. “We do have to be fiscally responsible. We have a board of directors organized.”
Dina Lukasko, a local musician, is on the board of directors. As a realtor at Ewell & Associates Real Estate Inc., she assisted with the sale.
“So extremely happy and proud to announce the new owners of the Norwalk Theatre … Norwalk Arts Center LLC. Please be a part of their vision and dream to bring visual arts, theater, dance and music back to this beautiful property. Feel free to contact me (or Vanessa or Theresa) on how you can be a part of this exciting journey,” Lukasko wrote on Facebook.
The Norwalk Theatre was founded in 1941.
On Jan. 1, 1974, Towne and Country Players Inc. purchased it from Leonard and Thelma Jefferson. The Norwalk-based arts organization had various musical and theatrical performances in the downtown building.
“They (the Jeffersons) took the money and bought the (Sandusky) State Theatre,” said Ronn Koerper, who founded Towne and Country and continues to volunteer.
The Norwalk Arts Center will be at least the third owner of the Norwalk Theatre in the last 13 years.
“It took 11 years to sell it; nobody wanted it,” Koerper said.
In 2006, a Michigan couple purchased the theater.
“And they were foreclosed on a few years ago,” Koerper said. “It went to auction. … The auction was held in Sandusky.”
Joe Cerri bought the building.
“He gutted the inside because there’s nothing left inside,” said Koerper, who believes the new owners will have to replace the piano, sound system, boilers, air conditioning system and roof. “All kind of stuff is missing.”
In early February 2016, vandalism to the theater marquee caused thousands of dollars worth of damage. Each of the letters spelling out “Norwalk” were vandalized on both sides.
“They took out all of the neon tubing, causing significant damage,” Cerri said shortly afterward. “They weren’t simply broken. Someone climbed up on the roof, reached around and tore off the tubing, then threw it down on the sidewalk. It was purposeful.”
Koerper, who once had a quote of $40,000 to replace the roof, said “you better have deep pockets” in order to bring the theater back to running order.
“They’re going to have to have a half-million dollars … and a cash flow,” he said, noting it might not be worth the investment. “It takes two boilers to heat that place.”
Given the technology advancements in how movies are being presented, Koerper said the Norwalk Theatre couldn’t keep up.
“You can’t compete against Premiere Theatre and the drive-in in the summer,” he added.
As a 501(c)(3) organization, the Norwalk Arts Center hopes to “take advantage of grant funding” and donations for renovations, Cook said.
She elaborated on the vision for the Norwalk Theatre and NAC, which considers itself “a growing non-profit organization committed to arts access in the community.”
“We definitely want an education component,” Cook said, referring to classes for adults and youth of all abilities in the areas of visual arts, theater, music and dance.
“All of our classes and workshops are led by skilled professionals with subject matter expertise and a commitment to each student’s development,” according to the NAC website.
Also, Cook said she sees the Norwalk Theatre as a place to host “traveling acts” for various performances.
For more information about the Norwalk Arts Center, go to https://www.norwalkartscenter.org.