Now playing: More improvements at historic Soo Theatre

The historic Soo Theatre in downtown Sault Ste. Marie is getting a facelift and other improvements this winter, thanks to an outpouring of support from residents and businesses in a recent crowdfunding campaign.

Launched last summer, the crowdfunding campaign successfully raised more than enough money to earn $50,000 in matching grants from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. 

The latest project at the Soo Theatre, a downtown landmark for decades, will make the entertainment venue accessible to everyone with updates to the entrance and adjacent storefronts. Improvements also are being made to signage, sidewalks, and entry and exit pathways.

“This project will allow for people of all abilities to have access to the myriad of public offerings at the historic Soo Theatre,” says Paula Holtz, managing director of MEDC Regional Prosperity. “We are pleased to support and provide resources for this project through our Public Spaces Community Places program.”

What’s happening: A crowdfunding campaign to raise the money to make the theater a universally accessible public space exceeded its goal, raising $85,023 — more than enough to earn its $50,000 in matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Public Spaces Community Places program. 

“We at the Soo Theatre are thrilled to be chosen for a Public Spaces Community Places grant by the MEDC,” says Colleen Arbic, who is executive director of the Soo Theatre Project Inc. “This grant will allow us to embrace the principles of universal design, resulting in the Soo Theatre and the public space surrounding it becoming more accessible.”

The improvement project: The focus is to replace the primary entrance and four historic storefronts, as well as make improvements to signs, sidewalks, and entry and exit pathways. Work began last fall after the funding campaign was finished, and quite a bit of work has been done through the winter, Arbic says. “We've got our front windows and doors installed and looking great,” she says. Officials are not sure of a completion date. The theater’s classes and studios have remained open throughout the work.

Next up, electric upgrade, work on the inside of the windows, and, when weather permits, work on the sidewalks as well. The primary entrance doors were converted from five smaller, poorly working doors to four large double doors, suitable for use by those with disabilities, and in better compliance with universal design standards. More improvements include signs directing those with disabilities through the primary entry doors and improved parking.

The Soo Theatre before the purchase by the Soo Theatre Project, Inc.The back story: The Soo Theatre building opened in March 1930. The original design
included nine apartments upstairs, four storefronts, offices, and a 1,100-seat theatre. The building went up for sale in 1998 and was deteriorating when it was purchased by the Soo Theatre Project, Inc. a few years later.

The Soo Theatre is home to a vibrant performing arts center, dedicated to showcasing performances, nurturing artistic talent, and fostering a deep sense of community.  The theater has a long history of providing free events to the public and will be able to expand on its offerings upon completion of this project. Programming includes Music in the Park, concerts, Junior Opera and other student performances, strings and orchestra concerts, Vocal Galas, and more.

About the funding: Public Spaces Community Places is a collaborative effort of the MEDC, the Michigan Municipal League, and Patronicity, which helps local residents use crowdfunding to be part of the development of strategic projects in their communities and be backed with a matching grant from MEDC.  Communities, nonprofits and other business entities can apply at

The Public Spaces Community Places initiative started in 2014 with MEDC providing matched funding of up to $50,000 for community improvement projects throughout Michigan. As of Aug. 10, 2023, MEDC has provided more than $11.8 million in matching grants. Since the launch of the program, 358 projects have been successful in reaching their goal, with more than $13.5 million raised from 67,117 individual donors. Communities have a 97 percent success rate in achieving their goals and earning matching funds.

What people are saying: “The Michigan Municipal League is a firm supporter of placemaking projects happening in our communities,” said Dan Gilmartin, CEO and executive director of the League. “This project will ensure that everyone can visit the historic theatre and be able to fully experience what it has to offer. The arts have an important impact in our communities and help bring people together, improving their human experience. This is what placemaking is all about.”

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange, UPword and other Issue Media Group publications. 
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