ASHLAND — Ashland Mayor Matt Miller picked a symbolic scene Thursday for a ceremony that kicked off his second term in office and solidified future plans for a theater that has sat empty for more than a decade.
“I thought it might be fitting to get sworn in here with this as the backdrop,” Miller said, gesturing toward the gargantuan construction project that is Schine’s Theatre.
The theater has sat empty and dilapidated since 2009. But officials Thursday said the auditorium could once again be used — so the structure symbolizes a promise for four more years of what Miller promised when he first ran for mayor: “a city that sparkles.”
“Our work has just begun,” he said, his buoyant voice bouncing off the barren brick and dust-covered floors and walls.
Scott Donley, president of The Schine’s Theatre Organization, said Thursday in an interview after the ceremony the organization has secured the $4.3 million necessary to renovate the inside of the theater. He hopes to open by July.
Miller said the theater is only one of several projects he hopes to accomplish during his second term.
Other priorities he mentioned were developing the Pump House District, which promises townhouses, apartments, mixed-use properties and an ultra futuristic park — all a couple blocks away from Main Street’s restaurants, bars and the newly minted bronze-animal-statued Foundation Plaza.
He said the Pump House District is really important to him because it will develop a “built-in audience downtown and I think it will make it even more viable for the restaurants and the gift shops and so on.”
Another priority, Miller said, is developing a funding mechanism that will lead to “vital” infrastructure improvements — water and sewer lines, treatment plants and such, he said.
“This one is not as glamorous,” he said.
Miller announced recently at a council meeting that rate hikes to the city’s water and sewer are likely in early 2022. He also mentioned the possibility of a surcharge on water bills, which will be money earmarked for such improvements and maintenance.
Around 50 people showed up to Miller’s swearing-in ceremony, including Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who did the honors of swearing in the mayor.
Miller said he began his first term as mayor with a promise to “breathe new life” into Ashland and to bring an “excellence” to the city’s public work ethic.
“You know what? We’ve done it, haven’t we? It’s getting better everyday,” he said, thanking those in attendance for playing a part in the city’s progress.
When asked after the ceremony by a reporter if Miller had any intention on running for higher office, perhaps in the newly formed 67th District of the Ohio House, the mayor said he doesn’t know the future.
“But right now, I don’t know how I could possibly leave,” he said. “There are still too many projects that I want to see through before I would consider running for state office.”
Schine’s Theatre update
The inside of the theater is gutted.
There are no seats and bright colors. The floors are dusty and jagged. In fact, many of those in attendance Thursday gingerly stepped across the balcony floors that had half-inch high rebar poking up them — fastening remnants of the theater’s old seats that are no longer there. (People sat on white folding chairs for Miller’s swearing-in ceremony.)
Exterior renovations to the theater on Center Street have been ongoing since 2015, when the organization acquired it. The organization planned for its completion in 2020, but the pandemic halted those plans and other fundraising efforts.
Part of the $4.3 million raised by the nonprofit organization will be earmarked for endowments meant to fund maintenance and its operating reserves, Donley said.
The plans for the theater include three screens — two on the balcony and one on the main stage. Donley said the screens will play everything from blockbuster movies to smaller independent films.
The screens will be retractable, he said, allowing for live performances such as bands, stand-up comics and other acts.
Donley personally would love to see top country music performers and others come to Schine’s. He dropped Jimmy Buffet’s name as a personal favorite, and one he wishes he could handpick to perform there.
He said the search for a theater director is ongoing and the board, of which Mayor Miller is a part, hopes to hire a staff of four to five in the coming months.