2 students spearheading theater support group

YOUNGSTOWN -- The downtown area will include the State Theater facade if some residents have their say.

About 30 people gathered at Cedar's Cafe to discuss the future of the State Theater, built in 1921.

The initial phase in a state-funded technology project includes plans to demolish the Armed Forces Building and the State Theater, which are both vacant and owned by the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp.

The meeting, billed as "Save our State Theater," was planned by Jaime Hughes, 18, a senior at Cardinal Mooney High School and Corey Maizel, 20, a freshman at Youngstown State University. Hughes said they held the meeting to garner community support to save the theater.

"It's not that we don't want this other building to go up," Hughes said. "It's just the location. This theater is beautiful and has a lot of historical value. People just don't understand."

Hughes and Maizel originally said they were interested in restoring the State Theater to its original condition to house independent films, artists, musicians and performances by Easy Street Productions and Oakland Center for the Arts.

Several historic preservationists attended the meeting, including preservative architect Norma Stefanik from YSU's Center for Urban and Regional Studies.

"I prefer keeping a building whenever possible, but it's just not economically viable," Stefanik said.

In previous reports by The Vindicator, restoration estimates have been as high as $20 million.

Stefanik and others at the meeting spoke of the importance of saving the facade of the building in its current place on West Federal Plaza.

"I think what we're saying is that we should concentrate the efforts mainly on the facade," said Bob Fitzer, a professor of clarinet at YSU and former co-host of a political talk program on WYSU.

To help explain how the building related to adjacent buildings, Fitzer led most of the 30-member group to the State Theater, pointing out architectural and cultural facts that were related.

Fitzer said he has worked to save other buildings in the downtown area, including Cedar's Cafe and Lounge, and noted that architectural preservation of Youngstown landmarks is a passion for him. He said he believes the best option for the State would be to restore its facade.

Reid Dulberger, executive vice president for the Regional Chamber, which oversees the CIC, told The Vindicator in December when the plan was announced that the theater's historic facade would remain, despite the demolition.

Hughes and Maizel said they are in the process of applying for a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit tax status in the project. The status would also be used in a group they have proposed, the Friends of Youngstown Theaters.

Hughes said the pair have been meeting with Paul Warshauer, chairman of Grand Venues, which bought the Paramount Theater at Federal Plaza and Hazel Street downtown. They said Warshauer would be a founding member of the Friends of Youngstown Theaters.

The group, Hughes said, would not "pick a favorite theater," but would evenly distribute money raised through membership fees and private donations to all area theaters.

"We're just looking for community support, for that positive feedback from the community so public officials and officials from out of town will see us and think, 'That theater is really important to them," Hughes said.

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