By Pat Maurer
Clare’s Ideal Theatre, closed since the beginning of the pandemic, is in the middle of a massive renovation to restore the historic landmark in Clare.
Now the new owners, sisters who grew up right here in Clare, will have some help from the State of Michigan because as part of Revitalization and Placemaking Program (RAP), the renovation process will get a big financial boost with a Real Estate Rehabilitation Award for $988,045.
In a Wednesday press release, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to announce Michigan Strategic Fund approval of $83.8 million in grant funding across 22 statewide community development projects around Michigan through the RAP program.
Included in the grants that are being awarded “Public Space Place-Based Awards totaling $9,058,627; Real Estate Rehabilitation Awards (including the theatre grant) totaling $9,843,045; and Subgrant Program Awards totaling $64,904,067.
The Ideal renovation project began over a year ago after sisters Sandy Wright and Lisa Benic purchased the theatre from second generation owner Tom Koch.
Now with the help of another sister, Designer Sue Leverence and R B Harsh Construction, who is handling the project, the project is well underway.
Although they grew up here, only Lisa still lives in Clare. Sandra, is an attorney who has owned Prime Properties Management Company in Macomb County for the past 29 years and Sue lives in Florida, where she works in architectural design primarily in the restaurant industry and construction, but all three sisters have fond memories of the Ideal Theatre, which has been a fixture in the City since it opened in 1930.
Lisa, who still lives in Clare said in an interview last year, “All three of us feel strongly that this isn’t about us, it’s about the community. This theater is such an important part of Clare’s history, and we want to keep it going to bring the same joy to future generations that it’s brought to us.”
She added, “When Covid hit the theatre was closed for so long. Nothing can replace a small town theatre.”
The sisters all grew up in Clare, the daughters of Polly and Don Collum and like other generations from Clare County, enjoyed movies and events at the theatre throughout their growing up years.
Last July Sandy said, “So many people in this area saw their first movie at the Ideal Theatre. We want to continue that tradition.”
She added, “The theatre is one of the main entertainment venues in the town. Our hope is that its revitalization will bring energy and inspiration to the surrounding area.”
In a Zoom interview, Lisa said, “It’s the way we all feel. This project is about the community.”
The Ideal Theatre was built by John and Myra Asline at a cost of $25,000. It opened August 6, 1930 and was managed by James Olson in November,1933. A beautiful new marquee was added in late 1937 and the theatre was run by John Alxine until his death in 1963, then by his wife until her death in 1967.
In October, 1968, after being closed for a year, the theatre was purchased by Willard Koch, Carl Stephenson, and E.C. Shurlow; and reopened with the Sound of Music followed the next week by the Jungle Book. Shurlow and Stephenson sold out to Bill and Ruby Koch and ownership transferred in 1995 to Tom Koch, who operated it until about March, 2020 when it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was sold in June, 2021, to Sandra Wright and Lisa Benic, daughters of Polly and Don Collum.
By Pat Maurer