An investment group is hoping to bring back the bright lights that once came from the Uptown Theater on Market Street — and the crowds those lights brought to the Uptown District.
The Uptown Theater has sat vacant for nearly two decades with plywood covering all windows and doors. Leaves and debris have blown up against the entryway, and the adjacent building is missing windows from where vandals have thrown rocks.
Shasta Shabazz, owner of Real Estate Investment Connection, is in the process of purchasing both buildings for the formation of a movie-theater/restaurant combination. She said the new name of the theater will be “Showtown Theater” with an attached restaurant called “Rudez.”
“We are really just trying to revamp up Youngstown,” she said. “We are trying to bring history back. We are going to upgrade some of the stuff inside the place, but we are trying to bring it back to the way it was.”
The theater does have a long history in the Uptown District.
The Uptown Theater Company was incorporated in 1926 for $500, with the actual theater built that same year at a cost of $125,000. The theater switched hands several times between 1926 and 1965 when it underwent extensive remodeling.
The theater changed hands several more times before closing to movie- goers in the late 1980s.
Easy Street Productions did make the theater home in the early 1990s, but eventually left the theater for its current home at the DeYor Performing Arts Center. There was a final attempt to breathe new life into the theater with a gospel music show, but the theater has since sat unused.
Shabazz said she and her husband, Ondrea Shabazz, have acquired the theater and the attached building next door that will ultimately become a restaurant. She plans to have the theater and restaurant up and running within the next year.
Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th Ward, said she is hoping to see the theater open and flourish. She said revitalizing the Uptown District is a goal, and there has been much interest in business in that area.
“The Uptown area is a goal of mine to revitalize and bring business back. I believe the only way to do it is with people who believe in the community. We need private and government funds to make these things happen,” she said. “I am hoping this is just the beginning.”
Shabazz plans to turn the theater into a movie theater and live performance combination. The theater, she said, will be made to accommodate tables so patrons can have dinner while enjoying a show.
The dinner served inside the theater will be provided by the planned restaurant in the attached building. She said those who do not want to eat inside the theater would be able to enjoy a meal in the restaurant, which will have a light-hearted theme where employees interact with patrons.
Shabazz said she got the idea from similar businesses in the Atlanta area where she and her husband had lived for the past year. She said they wanted to start a similar business in Georgia, but decided to come back home to Youngstown and do it here.
“We wanted to bring some life back to that area, bring some entertainment back to the city, and that is what we are trying to do. We are confident that we can do this,” she said.