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Published September 02, 2013, 02:53 PM

Park River group wants dollars for digital conversion, improved accessibility for theater

The Lyric Theatre’s silver screen here has been dark since December. But the community hasn’t given up on its dream of shining new light on the historic venue.

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

PARK RIVER, N.D. — The Lyric Theatre’s silver screen here has been dark since December. But the community hasn’t given up on its dream of shining new light on the historic venue.

A local group called The Lyric Continues, or TLC, has raised about $26,000 since spring toward a $100,000 goal that not only would reopen the doors, but would build new ones.

Half of the money will be used to purchase new digital projection equipment, while the remaining funds will go toward a remodeling project to increase the building’s accessibility, according to Tom Larson, Park River city auditor and committee chairman.

The renovation project includes a new entrance and new restrooms.

“We hope to do some major fund-raising,” he said, “but we’re closed until we can get it done.”

TLC recently launched a new Facebook page, “Lyric Theatre-Park River.”

The Lyric, which originally opened in 1915, was privately owned until it closed in 1997. In 2003, it was purchased and reopened by the Park River Community Development Corporation, the local economic development organization. Park River is a Walsh County community of 1,400, located about 60 miles northwest of Grand Forks.

Initially, the organization relied on volunteers to operate the business, with Park River High School students adopting the theater as a work project.

However, it later hired a part-time manager. That lasted until this past December.

The closing was prompted by a combination of factors, according to Larson, including: declining attendance; a lack of help on weekends; the need for major repairs; and the theater industry’s conversion from film to digital projection. Beginning in January, all major movie companies will distribute movies only in a digital format.

Many other theaters around the region already have switched to digital, spending $75,000 or more for the state-of-the-art equipment.

However, lower-cost options have been appearing on the market in recent months.

“I’m glad we waited,” Larson said. “We could have been looking at $75,000 to $80,000 for the equipment. Now, we can do it for $45,000 to $50,000.”

The community already has been rallying to help reopen the theater.

Members of the Park River Volunteer Fire Department removed the old theater seats earlier this summer. Local 4-H club members patched holes in the floor that were left when the old seats were removed.

The development corporation already has replacement seats, purchased after a theater in Valley City closed, according to Larson.

The economic development group also has applied for a $5,000 grant from the North Dakota Community Foundation.

Meanwhile, TLC is organizing a series of community fund-raising events.

Members also plan to talk with people in other towns that already have been successful, including members of the Save our Strand committee in nearby Grafton, N.D., which raised more than $150,000 last year to renovate and make the digital conversion at the Strand Twin Theatre.

A local theater is important to the community, said Larissa Schmitz, a TLC committee member who has lived in Park River for the past three years.

“I just want to keep the theater going,” she said.

Schmitz grew up near Leonard, N.D., a community of approximately 225 people located about 30 miles southeast of Fargo that had no theater.

“I see the theater as an opportunity,” she said. “No matter how old or young you are, you might not be able to play baseball or do other things, but everybody can go to the movies.”