Renovations of Alpena's Thunder Bay Theatre one step closer to $1.2M goal thanks to this $100K grant

What’s happening: It’s good news for those that have been following the planned renovations of Thunder Bay Theatre in downtown Alpena, as the nonprofit that operates the theater was recently awarded a $100,000 grant in support of their efforts to renovate and reopen the building. The theater, devastated and rendered inoperable by a 2020 fire, is one of eight historic preservation and renovation projects throughout Michigan that was recently awarded a total of $750,000 in Resilient Lakeshore Heritage grants.

The theater was devastated and rendered inoperable by a 2020 fire. (Photo: MEDC)Backstory: The Thunder Bay Theatre company was founded in 1967 but the history of its building goes back to 1904 when it was first built by E.C. Spens as part of the “New Spens Block,” according to this audio walking tour from the Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library. It would then become home to the Alpena Cigar & Candy Factory in 1934 before the Thunder Bay Theatre nonprofit acquired the building and began to stage productions there in 1983. More than 100 years of Alpena history was threatened in 2020 when a neighboring business caught fire and the flames spread to the theater, shutting it down.

[Related: Read "Thunder Bay Theatre plans renovation campaign" on Rural Innovation Exchange.]

Now for the good news: While the theater’s neighboring building wasn’t so fortunate, the building at 400 N. Second Ave. in downtown Alpena can be saved – it just needs $1.2 million to do it. It was announced on Thursday, Feb. 9, that the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has awarded Thunder Bay Theatre, Inc. a $100,000 Resilient Lakeshore Heritage grant.

Why it’s important: “This grant award is crucial to allow the renovation of our over hundred-year-old, mixed-use building and will be used to repair and replace our windows, doors, and electrical work throughout the building,” says Alpena Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Anne Gentry. “We are grateful to the SHPO team for supporting the rehabilitation of our historic building, which will allow us to get back to bringing live, professional theatre to Northeast Michigan and ensure our building is preserved for the next hundred years.”

Big picture: The grant comes as part of the SHPO’s Resilient Lakeshore Heritage Grant Program, which is funded through the federal Historic Preservation Fund — Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant Program as administered by the National Park Service. Other projects winning grants in this round include those in Bay City, Calumet, Holland, Mackinac Island, Rogers City, Sault Ste Marie, and South Haven, more details of which are available online.

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