PHOTO BY CHUCK HOVEN
Saturday, September 10, 2022; Variety Theater, W. 118th & Lorain Avenue: Westown Executive Director Rose Zitello says the Variety Theater has new ownership. The new owner, Kelly Flamos, former co-owner of Mahall’s in Lakewood, is working on the restoration of the entire building with hopes of opening the theater as a performing arts venue, and a community events and private events venue in late 2024.
New owner of the Variety Theater shares her vision for its future
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, October 2022) The new owner of the Variety Theater, Kelly Flamos, would like for the theater to once again be an anchor for the neighborhood and a place that brings people together to enjoy the arts. Flamos sees the building, at 11815 Lorain Avenue in the Westown neighborhood, as someday hosting live performing arts, community events and private events. Flamos hopes to see the performing arts in the building include live music, theater, dance, and the spoken word. If all goes according to plans, the restored theater building should be completed by the end of 2024, she said.
Flamos, originally from Canton, Ohio, came to Cleveland for graduate school at Case Western Reserve University. Her interest in restoring historic buildings and creating a space for people to meet face to face to enjoy music and the arts, led her to partner in the purchase of Mahall’s, a live music and event space, billiard hall, bowling alley, and bar in Lakewood.
After participating in the successful operation of Mahall’s, Flamos recently sold her share of Mahall’s and used the proceeds from the sale to purchase the Variety Theater from the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre. She paid $450,000 for the building.
Flamos says she has an interest in preserving historic buildings. She said after touring the building, she notified Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre that she was interested in purchasing it in December of last year. The sale was finalized at the end of April of 2022.
The Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre purchased the building in 2009. The price tag then was over a million dollars.
Flamos says she believes that Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre accepted her offer because of her experience in running a live music and event space as well as her vision for the restoration of the building matching the goals of the group.
Flamos says Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre were instrumental in getting the theater’s marque restored, getting the streetscape redesigned on Lorain Avenue and having the Variety Theater designated as a historic landmark. That designation makes the building eligible for historic tax credits that are an important source of funding to help complete the restoration of the building.
Westown Community Development Corporation Executive Director Rose Zitiello stressed the importance of City of Cleveland creating a 95-space green infrastructure parking lot across the street from the Variety Theater as part of the City’s streetscape redesign plan. Zitiello said the public parking made it possible for the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre to sell the building as an entertainment venue.
A Top Hat steel sculpture, which Zitiello says was “designed, fabricated, and installed by artist Steve Manka” sits across from the Variety Theater next to the parking lot, ready to be a part of welcoming future guests coming to enjoy some entertainment in the theater building.
Flamos says that the once 1,900 seat Variety Theater would be able to accommodate live music venues that may attract a crowd too large for the Beachland Ball Room or the Grog Shop. Acccording to Flamos, when the Variety Theater is completed, the owners of the Beachland and the Grog Shop would have a locally owned venue they could choose to rent for those larger acts. Currently the large spaces in town for those size venues – such as the House of Blues and the Agora — are owned by large corporations, she said.
Asked if the 95-car parking lot would be sufficient for such large crowds, Flamos said many people going out for entertainment now use Uber or Lyft. She said she would encourage the use of alternative transportation to those attending live events when a large crowd is expected.
Flamos says her immediate attention will be focused on the restoration of the building which takes up an entire block on Lorain Avenue. She is applying for federal and state historic tax credits to help with the financing of the project. Flamos said she has consulted with the HP Group for help with the Federal and State tax credit applications. She hopes to learn by the end of this year if the tax credits for the project are approved.
In addition to the federal and state tax credits, Flamos says Cuyahoga County has designated $2.5 million to help with the restoration of the building. She also hopes to meet with City of Cleveland officials to discuss financing from the City’s Vacant Properties Initiative.
Flamos says she has also tapped the expertise of MCM, a development consultant.
In addition to the theater, the building has 13 apartments and eight storefronts. Flamos says the 13 apartments will be renovated to rent out as studio apartments. Plans call for the eight storefronts to be made ready for businesses or nonprofit organizations to come in and finish building them out to meet their needs.
Flamos says there is some water damage in some of the storefronts that needs immediate attention. Vandals have also recently broken into the building, causing some damage.
She said some of the storefronts are very small, so she believes businesses or nonprofit organizations may want to combine two storefronts into one. She anticipates that maybe a total of five organizations or businesses will be eventually housed in the eight storefronts. Flamos says she hopes at least one restaurant will choose to be a tenant. She also would like to see arts organizations become tenants, creating an arts community like the Pivot Center for the Arts has done on W. 25th Street.
Those interested in learning more about the history of the efforts to save the Variety Theater can visit the Facebook page of Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre.
Flamos also has a social media presence where she will be documenting the continuation of the historic preservation of this historic landmark building. She says that her Instagram (www.instagram.com@varietytheatercle) and Facebook presence will also serve as a place where people with interest in learning more about the restoration of the Variety Theater can contact her.
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