(Plain Press, July 2017) Mike Wolfe, creator and star of the HISTORY channel’s popular TV series American Pickers, appeared at the Variety Theatre on June 7th to announce the restoration of the theatre and complex is the winner of the This Place Matters national competition. The free event, sponsored by Westown Development Corporation was open to the public and attracted about 100 residents who sat in seats placed on the sidewalk under the restored theatre marquee or stood nearby.
The This Place Matters contest was held last year as part of Wolfe’s partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to highlight volunteer support of preservation and restoration of historic structures throughout the United States.
When completed, the Variety Theatre and complex will have ten storefronts, ten second floor apartments and a second-floor balcony theatre. The anchor tenant will be a restaurant entertainment venue run by Tony George. With commitments of state historic tax credits and new market tax credits, the project which spans a city block, is poised to close the financing gap on the $14 million project. Last year, the city of Cleveland completed an $8 million streetscape improvement on Lorain Avenue which includes the area in front of the theatre. The City of Cleveland has also committed $400,000 to help build a parking lot across Lorain Avenue from the theatre. Marous Brothers Construction, which did the restoration work at the Capitol Theatre at W. 65th and Detroit is slated to be the design/builder for the project. Westown Community Development Corporation and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization will be co-developers on the project.
At the ceremony, Ward 11 Councilwoman Dona Brady said she couldn’t thank Jayne Ansberry enough for introducing the Variety Theatre project to Michael Wolfe. Ansberry is a Cleveland native, who now lives and works in Nashville as a singer. She promoted the project to Michael Wolfe after attending an event for the Variety Theatre when visiting her hometown. Ansberry said, “I wanted to give something back to this community, Cleveland is such a great town.”
The photo submitted to the This Place Matters campaign featuring a crowd of people in front of the Variety Theatre, “really humanized this place,” said Michael Wolfe. Of all the photos from places around the country, Wolfe said, “This one stood out. The organization stood out, and the beautiful commitment of people that have pushed it so far.” Wolfe noted the effort to restore the theatre which began “12 years ago with the dream of a Councilwoman who has roots in the neighborhood.”
Councilwoman Brady, Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre and Westown Community Development Corporation have been actively pursuing funding for the restoration for those 12 years. While the This Place Matters Award doesn’t include a monetary award, Brady stressed the importance of the national recognition gained from the This Place Matters Award. She thanked Michael Wolfe for agreeing to serve as honorary co-chair of the campaign to raise funds for a balcony – family style theatre on the second floor of the Variety Theatre. Brady urged supporters of the Variety Theatre to work hard so this national recognition can serve as an example to other communities around the country that are trying to restore historic buildings.
The effort to build a balcony family theatre involves an online Go Fund Me campaign under the heading Historic Variety Theatre. Wolfe, who toured the inside of the Variety Theatre, prior to the celebration, marveled at the detail in the walls of the theatre and share the feelings he experienced knowing that this was once a place “where people used to be entertained and the experience they had was incredible.”
Of his involvement in the This Place Matters Campaign, and his willingness to help as honorary co-chair of the fundraising campaign for the balcony theatre, Wolfe said, “This is what it is all about. We are here at the end of the day to help each other.” Wolfe urged supporters of the theatre to go to Go Fund Me site online and select Historic Variety Theatre to donate to the cause. “I can’t imagine what it will be like when it is finished. I hope to come back,” said Wolfe.