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Burlington's Capitol Theater poised for new round of renovations

Capitol Theater
Capitol Theater
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Submitted photo
Burlington's Capitol Theater is getting some additional capital improvements a decade after the downtown art deco space reeopened.

A new, black box theater and upscale lounge are on tap for Burlington’s historic Capitol Theater as it celebrates its 85th year of existence and the ten-year anniversary of its reopening.

The downtown art deco theater initially opened in 1937 and was shuttered in 1977, when the then-owners opened a new movie theater at Westland Mall.

The Capitol reopened in 2012, following a vast community effort to renovate it.

“It’s been really strong community support,” said Tammy McCoy, executive director of the theater.

Righting the ship

McCoy has been the executive director of the Burlington Arts Center for 8 years.

In 2018, she was serving on the board for the Capitol Theater and was asked to take the helm of that, too.

At the time, the theater had veered into some financial trouble after reopening.

McCoy said building loans and property taxes were both several months overdue, and the theater had more than $30,000 in unpaid bills at the time.

She utilized grants and hosted an “adopt a bill” party, where community members took care of those unpaid bills.

Now, with the ship righted, the theater’s leadership and board believe the time is right to renovate the second level of the theater.

Different size spaces

McCoy said the black box theater will seat about 122.

“So we will have different size spaces for different events,” McCoy said.

The main theater seats around 350 and is used for film festivals, showings of classic films, and concerts.

The black box theater will be an adaptable space, McCoy said, able to accommodate events from speakeasies to jazz nights to comedy clubs.

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The black box theater will be an adaptable space, seating fewer people than the main theater.

Other second-level renovations will include a new elevator, office space, and the recording rooms.

The price tag for the renovations is expected to be up to $1.3 million.

The theater board is moving forward with a feasibility study soon and then will move into a capital campaign, McCoy said.

Projects underway

In the meantime, grant funds are being used to move forward with some other upgrades now.

The first floor of the theater’s annex building is being transformed into a lounge that will seat around 75.

“We want to jazz it up a little bit. We want to make it kind of like a social club atmosphere,” McCoy said. “But not an exclusive club but one that’s open to everyone.”

In addition, a new projector has already been purchased and installed in the main theater using grant funds.

McCoy said the Capitol now plans to show anime films and first-run features.

All of the changes are meant to reach new audiences, expand what the Capitol can be to downtown Burlington, and ensure the theater is fully utilized by the community well into the future.

“We have a very small demographic who are attracted to the things we have been doing,” McCoy said. “So we need to broaden that perspective by offering more of a variety of things that appeal to different ages and different people in our community.”

The Capitol also has also been partnering with Southeastern Community College since last year.

McCoy said the agreement gives students valuable experience in a working theater and gets new segments of the community invested in its future.

Jane Carlson covers west central Illinois and southeast Iowa for Tri States Public Radio.