Fairborn group wants to reopen theater: ‘We don’t want it to sit here empty any more’

It’s just an empty theater now, but a local nonprofit group hopes to turn the derelict Fairborn Theater into a community center and arts destination.

The Fairborn Theater, at 34 S. Broad St., has been closed for about two decades and will require from $3 million to $5 million to renovate, but the Fairborn Phoenix Foundation believes it is the group that will reopen it.

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The Fairborn Phoenix Foundation received 501c3 designation last weekend. Jordan Terrell, Chris Morse and Dustin Thomas sit on the nonprofit board. Bob Frey is the group’s construction manager and Terrell’s mom, Tami Motschman, is their secretary, Morse said.

Most of the people involved in the foundation are lifelong Fairborn residents. Terrell and Morse graduated from Fairborn High School in 2007.

Terrell is a documentary filmmaker. He screened his latest documentary, “HEROINOHIO,” about two Springfield brothers battling opioid addiction, at the theater in October. He said the screening’s success helped fuel the group’s desire to reopen the theater for good.

“The community wants this theater to open,” Terrell said. “The community has been so supportive.”

Morse is a contract negotiator at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“There’s not a lot to do in this town. There’s no city pools anymore, the skate rink is gone,” Morse said.

Terrell said in the four years it took him to make the documentary, 12 people from his high school class died from an opioid overdose.

Morse hopes giving the community a space in the theater would help stop some of the drug overdoses and give young people in danger of getting involved in drugs a creative outlet.

“We want to make everybody feel like they have a place,” Morse said.

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The Fairborn Performing Arts Center owned the theater before the Fairborn Development Corporation took it over.

Morse will meet with the Fairborn Development Corporation this month to present the Fairborn Phoenix’s plans. He hopes to work out a lease with the city.

The main source of light in the theater now comes from Christmas lights. There is no plumbing in the building.

But Morse envisions a grand entryway with a red couch and kids of all ages streaming in through the front door in the future.

Morse said he is working with the city to get a liquor license for the theater’s concessions stand. The group plans to host workshops, Q&A sessions, film festivals and other events.

“I want to give back to Fairborn,” Terrell said. “It’s the place that made me who I am.”

Morse said the group has had three projectors donated to it. They plan to repair the theater’s original projector and eventually play movies on it.

The group plans to use events to slowly raise money. Terrell said Fairborn Phoenix plans to host four events in 2020.

“We’re young, ambitious and a little stubborn,” Terrell said.

While the group is ambitious, they’re not naive about the costs to repair the theater.

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Fixing the roof will cost $250,000. HVAC for the monolithic building will cost about $500,000. “To make it a ‘respectable space,’ I think we’re looking at about $1.25 million in renovations,” Morse said.

And the group acknowledges that it will need a lot of help. “This is our first time. We’re figuring it out as we go,” Terrell said. “If anyone has grant-writing experience or nonprofit experience, they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to us.”

Morse said the group wants interaction with Fairborn residents. “If people have input or ideas, send them to us,” Morse said. “This place is here for all of us. We don’t want it to sit here empty any more.”

To make a donation or to contact the Fairborn Phoenix Foundation, reach out via the group's Facebook page.

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