Coming attraction: a theater near you

Kathy McCarty, Special to The County
17 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – A once-vacant landmark will soon be buzzing with activity, following the purchase of the Braden Theater by Chris and Arlen Dow, of Presque Isle.
“Mark Carter was the owner,” said Larry Clark, executive director of the Presque Isle Industrial Council. “The Industrial Council took an option on the property in December and we’ve been working with various parties that expressed interest in it since that time.”
    According to Clark, the initial paperwork was signed by all parties involved earlier last week.
“The Council gathered a fair amount of information on the theater and initiated discussions with various individuals to determine thier degree of interest,” said Clark, noting that the Dows were the successful pair to reach an agreement on the property.
The Council will continue to work with the Dows through the Presque Isle Development Fund, said Clark. It was never the Council’s intent to get into the theater business but rather find someone else to do so.
“Our intent was never to own property and open a theater. Our role was to find someone who would have the interest to reuse the building as a theater. Interest had been expressed in the building other than for use as a theater, but our primary objective was to work toward and use the building as a theater,” said Clark.
Clark said the configuration of the building provides 8,200 square feet of space on the first floor, with an additional 2,100 square feet of office space upstairs. Currently the building already has one tenant, following Goldmasters’ recent move to a space on the first floor of the building.
Arlen Dow said he and Chris saw a need for a theater and that’s what drew them to the idea of purchasing the property.
“There’s such a need for one. Folks have been wanting one. And with the efforts by the Downtown Revitalization Committee to bring business back downtown, it will look good to see the marquis lit up again,” said Arlen Dow, adding that more activity in that section of town will, in turn, help bring life back downtown.
But before the theater can open, a great deal of work needs to be done.
“We have to finish demolition work and level the floor. We’ll start fresh with a clean floor,” said Arlen. “We’re lucky to already have a tenant, with Goldmasters in already. And we’ll have office space available on the second floor.”
Arlen said he and his son, both natives of Presque Isle, remembered going to the movies when the theater was open before and how much they enjoyed it. It’s their goal to bring fun, affordable entertainment back to the community.
“We’d definitely like to have weekend matinees, try to have some first- and second-run moves. We want to keep prices affordable so a family can enjoy an evening out together without going broke,” said Arlen.
As for the name, derived from a well-known race horse who lived from around 1921 to 1929, there are no plans to change it.
“We’ll keep it the Braden. That’s what everyone knows it by and that’s what it will stay,” said Arlen.
Parking won’t be an issue, said Clark.
“There’s parking along Academy and Main streets, and you have the parking lot across the street. There was never a problem with parking before and there shouldn’t be a problem now,” said Clark.
Chris Dow will serve as manager, once the theater is up and running. Until then, he’s busy lining up construction crews and preparing to place orders for equipment, food and movies.
“I’ve had some experience with contractors and buying and purchasing. We signed the purchase and sale agreement last week and hope to close on the building this week. Then we can begin purchasing. We’ve set up Dow Theaters Inc. LLC and our attorney, Hal Stewart, is handling all the paperwork, making sure everything’s in order,” said Arlen.
The pair’s intent was to get a business going in Presque Isle but the theater business took a little thought.
“Owning a theater is a little risky but we think it will do well. The way we’re laying the theater out leaves room for expansion,” said Arlen.
Plans are for the theater to have three screens – one for a first-run movie, one for a second-run movie and a third for an alternative choice.
“We’ll go with first- and second-run movies for two options, with the third option still open to suggestion. There are so many ideas I want to try. It depends on what’s available – art house, foreign, or perhaps we’ll run specialty stuff on the weekends,” said Chris Dow.
Arlen said a theater provides entertainment for individuals and families when other forms are limited due to weather or other issues.
“A movie theater has a controlled environment. Weather limits activity several months of the year but movies are something one can enjoy year-round. Our goal is to keep the price down – be it the cost of the movie or at the concession stand – making it affordable fun for the whole family,” said Arlen.
Interior work will soon begin. As it does, Chris said he’ll be busy pricing equipment and making plans for the layout of the theater.
“We have a number of options to explore for equipment. Basically we’re looking at where we can find the best deal. There’ll be a lot of activity going on in the coming weeks, as we get an engineer in to tell us what we can do,” said Chris.
Offers of help are already pouring in.
“Everyone’s been very up front with offers of help. They’re anxious to see it (see theater open) happen and willing to swing a hammer to make it happen,” said Chris.
Chris said his years of working at FYE gives him a great deal of knowledge about movies, past and present. He plans to continue working at the store after the theater opens.
“Life is pretty much open for me. My work schedule allows me to work at FYE during the day, then I can go to the theater. In addition to the movies I deal with at work, my private collection numbers around 1,500,” said Chris.
The Dows are looking forward to the weeks and months ahead, as they move closer to opening day.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, but when it’s done, it will be a great feeling. It’ll be great to open those doors for the first time for that first show. We’re really looking forward to it,” said Chris.
Plans are to have the Braden operational within the year, hopefully as early as next winter.