A historic theater district is an asset to downtown, the owner said.
WARREN -- The Robins Theater's owner says yanking a $1 million state commitment for its renovation would send the wrong message to Columbus about the importance of its historic preservation.
"Common sense would dictate, if a commitment for the theater is abandoned, it sends a message that the theater is not a priority for the community," said Brad Phillips, who has a controlling interest in the East Market Street property with his family.
State Rep. Randy Law of Warren, R-64th, said last week he wants W.D. Packard Music Hall to use the $1 million state bond that has been pledged to the long-awaited Robins Theater renovation.
Law said the music hall can use the money now, and he wants to keep the funding for Warren before legislators from other areas try to take it away.
The future bond issue has been promised for the theater over the past five years, but Law sees no active fund raising locally to bring about its renovation -- previously estimated at $6 million or $7 million.
Phillips said he can appreciate that Law is standing up for the community and trying to keep the funding commitment here.
Phillips said, however, that getting the $1 million set aside for the theater was "quite an accomplishment" that involved the work of many people who still view it as a priority. Law's effort for redirecting the money would negate the past couple of decades of effort to get the theater restored, he added.
Giving up on that process compromises the belief of many Warren residents that the community's identity is based upon its history, "where we came from and what it means to us," Phillips said.
"An asset the downtown has that is hard to duplicate in other communities is the historic theater district," he noted.
Law has said it's possible that other state funding for the theater could be sought later; Phillips doesn't think that will be possible if a misrepresentation is presented to state lawmakers that the Robins Theater isn't important to the community.
Law also has stressed the proposal to shift the funding to the music hall is "not anti-Robins Theater renovation," and that lots of legislative meetings will need to be held to change the bond commitment.
Phillips suggested another approach should be prodding lawmakers and community leaders to take up a renewed torch for the theater.
"What can we do to attract more dollars rather than just give up? Maybe private developers and public officials should pool their resources to get greater results from the local, state and federal levels," he said.
The Robins Theater owners, since 1987, have been willing to "give it away for a buck" to anyone willing to sign a 30-year lease, Phillips said.
It opened in 1923 and was one of Ohio's first structures of its size specifically built for the film industry.
Music hall officials, meanwhile, have said they can put the $1 million to work there as part of a plan as large as $8 million or $9 million for a complete overhaul.