Strand Theater and Downtown Atmore Action Plan

Nestled along the Florida border, the City of Atmore, Alabama is uniquely poised for redevelopment to attract the next generation of workforce while retaining those who currently reside in the community. Driven by visionary leadership and engaged residents, Atmore is determined now more than ever to resurrect the historic Strand Theater and begin to activate the empty storefronts located throughout downtown.

Situated just 50 miles north from its urban counterparts – Mobile and Pensacola – Atmore recognizes that it must offer its own amenities if it is to attract and retain a skilled workforce, local and regional businesses, and high-paying jobs. By taking this first step, Atmore has demonstrated the community is ready to take on this challenge to enhance the quality of life of both current and future residents.

Visioning

At the core of successful community planning efforts, engaged residents of diverse backgrounds come together to define a vision, develop goals, and identify measurable objectives to ensure their vision becomes a reality. In Atmore, passionate residents took their first step by attending the Delta Regional Authority’s Creative Placemaking Workshop in Tuskegee, AL to learn, share, and collaborate with other like-minded individuals hoping to spark positive change in their communities and regions. Having met many of the attendees at this workshop, the MEC Placemaking team was immediately taken by the passion and grit of three Atmore residents – Foster Kizer, Bub Gideons, and Susan Smith – all determined to champion more innovative community development efforts in downtown Atmore starting with the historic Strand Theater.

Since the Strand officially shut its doors in November 2013, they knew that revitalizing their infamous vaudeville film house would be an intricate challenge. While the facility has hosted some community driven-events in its space over the years, the historic one-screen theater – located in the middle of downtown – has largely been vacant and has fallen into disrepair. Bringing the Strand back to life, they believed, was the key to unlocking more economic development opportunities in Atmore. And after visiting the community, the MEC Placemaking team believed it as well.

Through extensive interviewing, research and community visioning sessions with more than 500 community members – including groups ranging from Escambia High School students, the Poarch Creek Tribal Council, local business leaders, the YMCA and Poarch Creek Youth Leadership – residents generated ideas that led to the creation of this action plan and expanded the scope of work far beyond the Strand Theater building. We believe this plan will serve as a catalyst for the entire Atmore community and neighboring areas.

This action plan would not have come together without the generous support, guidance, and ideas of Yukie Koichi of Stoa Architecure or Stephanie Rolin of Rolin Construction.

Action Plan Description

A quantitative and qualitative data review guided the process of paring back the community’s dozens of potential projects to a manageable number from which to begin. At this time, capacity assessments were conducted for each of the projects, ultimately leading to three placemaking projects that have the potential to advance the revitalization efforts in Atmore for years to come.

  • Strand Theater
  • Former Hardware Store (Performance/Event Space, Classrooms, Sound Recording Studio, Artist Residency)
  • Anderson Family Properties (Pizza Parlor/Bakery, Kid’s Interactive Zone, and Makerspace)

Strand Theater

Downtowns and main streets are the economic engines of communities – big and small. However, in too many rural towns, downtown storefronts remain empty and buildings vacant or underutilized. Even more common are the historic theaters residing in the center of town that are rarely able to keep their doors open due to the lack of nearby retail and foot traffic from locals and tourists alike. Restoring a historic theater or performance space can positively influence a community’s quality of life and spur further economic redevelopment in the downtown district. Widely believed to be the oldest continually operating movie theater in Alabama, the Strand Theater is especially well-positioned to breathe new life into downtown Atmore.

New programming can include:

  • Independent Films
  • Second Run Films
  • Cult Classics
  • Family Films
  • Live Music Events
  • Birthday Parties

Opening its doors to movie-going patrons in 1929, the Strand Theater is one of the most iconic landmarks in downtown Atmore. To begin the community revitalization process, Atmore should renovate the beloved theater to look like it did when it was originally built, utilizing state and federal historic tax credits as a major source of funding. Currently, the theater sits in disrepair and needs upgrading – internally and externally – if it is to inspire and accelerate development throughout downtown Atmore. Inside the theater, the lobby will be widened and the ceiling will be raised to allow for more capacity. To maximize this additional space, the theater will upgrade the concession stand area to include more than just your average popcorn, candy, and soft drinks. Inside the cinema hall, the theater will have a seating and acoustics upgrade, including an upgrade to the overall technology currently being used. With the implementation of this enhanced technology, the cinema hall will be able to use its balcony again with the removal of the existing projection booth that is not needed in this digital age. Moreover, the restroom facilities will be upgraded to include additional lavatories and ADA-compliant enhancements. And on the outside, the theater will undergo a complete façade restoration to reflect its founder’s original architectural rendering. The primary purpose of the Strand Theater will be to show films and host live music events as outlined in the program guide.

Not only will the theater be restored, but it will also serve as the centerpiece of the Strand Social Club (working title). The Strand Social Club (SSC) will be a program of the already established 501c3 Pride of Atmore organization. The SSC is simply the name given to the entity that oversees the theater, and the programs in both properties immediately to the south (Hardware Store) and the north (Radio Shack). The Pride of Atmore will own both the Strand and Hardware buildings. As of this time, it is undetermined if the Radio Shack (and potentially its sister building to the north) will be owned by the non-profit or if a long term lease will be in place for the programming there. Either option will work well.

Total Expenses Amount Total Income Amount Net Revenue
Year 1 $508,975 Year 1 $511,475 $2,500
Year 2 (5%) $534,424 Year 2 (5%) $537,050 $2,626
Year 3 (5%) $561,145 Year 3 (5%) $563,902 $2,757

The full business plan for overall programming and budget can be found in Appendix A.

The long history of movie theater concession stands originated during the days of the Great Depression when the struggling movie theater industry was near collapse and in need of more creative ways to make revenue. Despite their humble beginnings, concession stands and the movie theater experience are closely linked nowadays, and often determine the success of both indoor and outdoor movie theaters. With so many competing forces, the typical concessions – popcorn, candy, soft drinks – are not enough to grab the younger generation’s attention. One solution is to lure customers of all ages with better food and transform the traditional concession visit to something more upscale.

New Concession Offerings:

  • Beer & Wine
  • Flatbread Pizza
  • Loaded Nachos
  • Salted Pretzels
  • Sliders
  • Meat & Cheese
  • Plates
  • Gourmet Popcorn

New Layout

Action Steps

Create Board of Directors and Write Bylaws

Steering Committee Members

Officially incorporate the SSC as a program of the Pride of Atmore (POA) and write new bylaws reflecting the program and the powers of the board and staff. Elect a board of directors. Elect officers.

Summer 2018

Hire Foster Kizer as Executive Director

Board of Directors

Foster has proven himself to be a passionate supporter of the work of POA and the creation of this plan. He has strong experience in fundraising, grant writing, management and the arts. Additionally, he is willing to get to work right away regardless of pay structure being in place. In order to move this plan to action swiftly, we strongly recommend this action.

Summer 2018

Create Capital Campaign Committee (CCC) and select Campaign Chairs

Board of Directors

Select up to 25 people to be part of the CCC. Many board members will serve on this committee. A strong cross section of the community is needed, including members of all major Atmore populations, students and business community.

Summer 2018

Agree on Campaign Goal and Launch Campaign

CCC

Once all final construction estimates are received, agree on the amount needed to fund this work.

*Create a roadmap of potential funders (see appendices for inspiration).

Summer 2018

Launch Capital Campaign

CCC

Begin silent phase of campaign and raise pledges of at least 30-40% of overall goal. Then announce Campaign to the public by launching a major event (that should be a fundraiser). At the same time, announce plans for 2-3 other events that will take place throughout the Campaign to keep folks aware and not let campaign go stale. These events are also designed to allow for small contributions (less than $100) from community members who wish to be a part of the campaign but cannot give at a major level.

January 2019

Former Hardware Store

On the other side of the Strand Theater is the former Hardware Store which will see a complete transformation. The first floor of the building should become a flexible performance space and rental venue, including a moveable stage, fixed bar area and box office. This versatile space should be available for both standing and seated events such as live music concerts, open mic nights, and trivia contests. At the rear of the first floor should be a separate entrance to be available for children and teenagers to have access to the second floor. The second floor of the former hardware store building should feature 2-3 flexible classroom spaces (one for dance/movement and the other space(s) to accommodate everything else in the program guide) and a small recording studio available for rent and music lessons. Finally, the second floor should include an artist studio apartment (500-600 square feet) to be home to a resident artist who will commit to teaching classes for working with the SSC’s education program. As part of the artist residency program, the artist will receive a monthly stipend, free room and board, and rotate out with another artist every 6-12 months.

The first floor of the former Hardware Store building will offer Atmore residents with a place to listen to live music from local and regional artists, host various weeknight/weekend events such as open mic nights and trivia contents, but also to open up the space for community members to rent for various events such as wedding receptions, theatrical plays, birthday parties, and dance events, etc. To make best use of the space, seating and other furniture or equipment will be held in a storage area. This storage area could be a shipping container kept behind the building for convenience, and the SSC can select local artist(s) to paint a new mural on the container once a year.

New Programming can include:

  • Music Lessons
  • Painting
  • Photography
  • Ceramics
  • Dance Events
  • Language Classes
  • Academic Tutoring
  • Dance Classes
  • Theater, Music, and Art Camps
  • Yoga, Pilates, and Zumba Classes
  • Trivia Nights
  • Open Mic Nights

The second floor of the former Hardware Store building should be renovated into 2-3 classrooms, a sound recording studio, and a studio apartment for the artist residency program. The classrooms should be adaptable spaces allowing for a broader range of audiences to make use of these spaces. The classrooms should accommodate people of all ages by providing educational and artistic programming, including a variety of disciplines to meet the needs of the community. One classroom should be dedicated to dance and indoor workout classes, such as ballet and yoga. The other classrooms should be interchangeable to accommodate academic tutoring for children, painting with wine classes for adults or music lessons, among other things. The second floor will also include a sound recording studio which should be available for private rentals or group recording for community members wanting to record and produce instrumental music, songs, podcasts, etc. The various uses for the space will be determined by demand and the evolving needs of the community at-large.

Dance classes have been offered at the YMCA over the years to varying degrees of success. There remains a strong need for dance classes in Atmore, and in order to maximize the program we recommend forming a partnership with the YMCA as outlined in the business model. Dance classes are only the beginning, and we see many avenues for future partnerships with the YMCA for other classes and programs to bring success to both organizations and decrease competition.

This program is designed to keep programming fresh by introducing an outside artist every 6-12 months who will live in the space. The artist can be from any discipline. The artist will receive free living quarters and a monthly stipend of $500. In exchange, the artist will teach several classes in the space and create a public piece of art (whatever their discipline) working with community members. This piece of art will be displayed or performed at the conclusion of their residency. There are several national organizations to work with that will promote this opportunity to get the word out and accept applications from artists all around the world.

Poarch Creek Indian Tribe Youth Leadership and Escambia High School students were challenged to create an event for the SSC. They envision a comedy and open-mic music event that will be produced and hosted by the students and feature their fellow classmates. A $4 cover cost was
suggested.

New Layout

Action Steps

Adopt overall budget

Executive Director (ED) and Board of Directors (BOD)

ED and BOD will vote on final budget for programming, making sure that the revenues included are achievable.

Winter 2019 (or after construction has been completed)

Hire staff for SSC

ED

Hire administrative, marketing and programming staff for SSC

Winter 2019

Hire instructors and program leads

ED and staff

Hire all programming staff to lead classes and host events. Make sure you have a marketing plan for each event. These hires will likely be contract employees only.

Winter 2019

Release schedule of events to community

ED and staff

Once all programs are created, host a public event to announce the schedule

January 2020

Anderson Family Properties

Adjacent to the Strand Theater is the former Radio Shack building owned by the Anderson family. Recognizing the significant redevelopment opportunities in downtown Atmore, the Anderson family has agreed to join forces with the Strand Social Club on several new concepts for the existing building and interior space. Residents in Atmore are eager for a new restaurant to eat at, but also want a family-friendly environment so they can bring their children with them. To meet the needs of current and future residents, the first floor of the former Radio Shack building is slated to become a counter service pizza parlor and/or bakery complete with an interactive zone for young children. The second floor of the building will feature the interactive zone for children.

The building to the north of the former Radio Shack building is also owned by the Anderson family. This space is approximately 2,850 square feet per floor and offers a perfect opportunity to use both floors as a tailor-made makerspace. The makerspace will be home to several woodworking machines and computer programming stations designed for entrepreneurs, tinkerers, and anyone else wanting to learn more skills or needing help starting a business. Ultimately, the goal of these spaces is to bring new audiences to the SCC, but also to provide new sources of revenue for the Strand Social Club.

New programming can include:

  • Computer Coding
  • Woodworking
  • Sewing
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Welding
  • Graphic Design
  • 3D Printing
  • Ceramics
  • Games and Puzzles
  • Co-working Space

In 2016, pizza consumption climbed to its highest level compared to the four previous years with 41% of polled consumers claiming they now eat pizza once a week. Widely known as one of America’s favorite comfort foods, pizza is a $45 billion industry in North America with independent operators and small chains earning more than 40% of this revenue. In Atmore, there are currently only two franchised pizza restaurants – Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s Pizza – serving its residents making the downtown corridor a prime location for an independently-operated pizza restaurant.

The pizza parlor/bakery should provide patrons with a casual, counter-service restaurant to enjoy during lunch and dinner hours, serving the community-at-large including families, high school students, and senior citizens alike. Meeting the needs of parents and young children residing in the community, the restaurant should also maintain a family-friendly atmosphere, especially considering the addition of the Kid’s Interactive Zone located on the second floor of the building.

What's on the Menu?

A restaurant’s menu is the primary factor determining its overall success. If the menu is too big, food ingredients become too costly to be profitable. If the menu is too small, customer volume will likely suffer and hurt profits equally as much if not more. Today’s restaurant diners want consistency, but they also crave new options. The pizza parlor should provide a simple menu with weekly specials to attract new customers, but also retain “the regulars.” Additionally, a limited menu will be made available to the concessions stand in the theater next door.

Menu Offerings:

  • Pizza by the Slice
  • Create-Your-Own-Pizza
  • Salad
  • Appetizers
  • Weekly Specials
  • Beer & Wine

To compete in the global marketplace, urban and rural communities alike must foster innovation through the adaptation of advanced technologies and the advancement of the STEAM fields – science, technology, engineering, arts, and math – in their local schools, nonprofit organizations and workforce training programs, among others.

To encourage this creative thinking by applying the STEAM approach, Atmore should create a makerspace on the two floors of the Anderson building to provide students and adults with a space to develop their skills and collaborate with others. One floor will be home to computer science and new technology (i.e. 3D printers) the other will offer space for industrial arts such as woodworking, welding and possibly ceramics. This community-oriented workspace will provide a place for people to make, learn, explore and share using everything from high tech to no tech tools. The makerspace should also provide a platform and resources for aspiring entrepreneurs through incubators and accelerator programming for business startups.

*should the second floor of the Hardware building not offer enough space for the artist residency, that space can be carved out here on the second floor.

Lacking family-friendly amenity options, Atmore is in need of a new space for children and their families to spend time. Slightly separated from the pizza parlor and bakery, the kid’s interactive zone should feature educational spaces for children under the age of 8 to play and learn with their family – or even without their parents/guardians to provide the adults with the opportunity to enjoy a meal next door while their kids enjoy the interactive zone.

The Kid’s Interactive Zone will serve as a community space for after school programming, birthday parties, daily drop-in and educational programming, allowing families to pay based on attendance or to purchase a semi-annual/annual pass. The goal of the space is to bring new audiences to the Strand, but also to provide new sources of revenue for the non-profit.

The full business plan for overall programming and budget can be found in Appendix D.

2nd Floor – Kid’s Interactive Zone| 1st Floor – Pizza Parlor / Bakery
Total Expenses Amount Total Income Amount Net Revenue
Year 1 $322,092 Year 1 $336,415 $14,323
Year 2 (5%) $338,198 Year 2 (5%) $353,237 $15,039
Year 3 (5%) $355,107 Year 3 (5%) $370,898 $15,791
Makerspace
Total Expenses Amount Total Income Amount Net Revenue
Year 1 $86,078 Year 1 $87,792 $1,744
Year 2 (5%) $90,350 Year 2 (5%) $92,182 $1,832
Year 3 (5%) $94,868 Year 3 (5%) $96,791 $1,923

Action Steps

Agree on partnership between SSC and Anderson Family

BOD and Anderson Family

In exchange for help raising funds to fix up the Anderson Family’s buildings, the Anderson Family agrees to a low annual lease that goes out at least 10 years. In addition, an agreement should be formed for SSC to sub-lease out space to a restaurant tenant.

Q4 2018

Secure tenant for Restaurant concept

BOD and Anderson Family

Work with local entrepreneurs to secure an owner and/or operator for new restaurant concept. Approve business model and determine who the concept works with the SSC. This tenant will become a sub-lessee of the SSC. Ideal relationship is low rent is offered in exchange for % of net profits to the SSC. Another option is the SSC owns and operates the restaurant and hires the operator to run the business.

Q1 2019

Create Makerspace

ED and BOD

Create partnership with all local schools (grades K-12 and colleges) to help program space. Offer community-wide survey on what types of equipment and educational opportunities are of interest.

Q2 2019

Create Interactive Zone for Children

ED and staff

Using examples such as City Treehouse in NYC, RECESS in Dumbo, Ball Factory in Naperville, IL and Edinborough Park in Edina, MN – design the space for families and children to utilize daily.

Q2 2019

The Case for Fundraising

This campaign must feel inevitable. You have to will it to happen. This is the feeling that each campaign member must project, and that which every resident of Atmore should come to understand. “Of course this is going to happen,” everyone should think, and therefore, in their own time, and in their own way, they will get involved. Whether that means monetarily with a donation, volunteering hours, attending fundraising events, reading about it the media or online, or simply sharing their excitement about the Strand with others, everyone in Atmore needs to be transfixed with the excitement of this project.

The pitch for the project is slightly different depending on who you are talking to. You need to craft the pitch in a way that shows how The Strand Social Club opening in Atmore will affect them in a positive way. Think selfishly, for them. When giving the pitch to a potential corporate donor, your conversation can go something like this: “Downtown Atmore has been challenged for years to welcome outside visitors and business due to its consistent lack of storefront amenities. We’ve done a good job of presenting it with décor, but we need a thriving downtown to take the next step as a community, and to grow our economy.” Put your own spin on this, of course. Then ask them if their company is challenged to attract and retain a quality workforce. Inevitably they will say yes in some manner. “This project will help you attract and retain the workforce you want. We’ve spoken with residents and businesses all over the community, those who have lived here or have thought about coming. We hear the same thing everyone – Atmore does not have the quality of life amenities they are looking for. It’s why they choose Pensacola, or Mobile or even Spanish Fort over Atmore. Or if they do work here, they don’t live here, and have long commutes and are spending their dollars in other communities. The Strand will help change that. We spent the last year speaking to the community about what they want to see in their downtown, and this project is a manifestation of those ideas. Your support is not simply a donation, it is an investment in the future of your company and the future of Atmore.”

This same pitch can be tailored to the community member who is giving individually, and how this will affect them personally and why their involvement has such importance. Be it for their children, for their family or them individually, Atmore has needed an injection of local entertainment and culture that helps define what it means to be “from Atmore.” In addition, the students of Atmore need a place to recreate and to socialize in a safe environment where kids from each community of Atmore can mix and befriend one another. Building the Strand is like re-building what it means to be from Atmore. Just as Gather Restaurant has galvanized the community in a positive way, and given Atmore a new, unique quality, The Strand will do this on a much deeper, more visceral level.

The Capital Campaign

Strand and Hardware
Total: 3,500,000*
State Historic Tax Credits (25%): $875,000 * $0.85 = $743,750
Federal Historic Tax Credits (20%): $700,000 * $0.85 = $595,000
Strand Naming: $500,000
Hardware Floor 1 Naming $250,000
Hardware Floor 2 Naming: $250,000
10 Pledges for naming rooms, areas and equipment @ $50,000: $500,000
10 Pledges of $10,000 – $25,000: $150,000
10 Pledges of $1,000 – $10,000: $50,000
100 Pledges of $100: $10,000
National Grants: $200,000
Total: $3,248,750
Gap: $251,250

*This amount, bearing finding something significantly wrong with the structures, is the ceiling for the project based on preliminary drawings. We believe this amount can and will be reduced once the design becomes fleshed out.
**Note: All gifts are made as pledges and can be distributed over 5 years. A bridge loan can be accessed from a local financial institution and the interest rate will be factored into the capital campaign in order to make pledging easier.

Recommendation: Lower costs on construction. This is a high estimate and the should come down, ideally to the level you need to. If not, you need to get it down to $125,000. Taking on $125,000 in loans over 5 years at 5% interest would amount to $2,359/month, which the pro-forma budget shows the entity can support.

Anderson Properties
Total: Unknown

Recommendation: Once a budget is created for these properties, an understanding needs to be created between the Anderson family and the Non-profit about raising the funds together that will be necessary to turn the buildings into these concepts.

Conclusion

Atmore is a community on the brink of revitalization. Residents – young and old – have demonstrated exceptional leadership and are willing and ready to take on these new, catalytic projects to bring their community back to life. Much of this excitement and enthusiasm for change stems from the historic Strand Theater.

Led by local leaders like Foster Kizer, Bub Gideons, Dale Ash, Cindy Colville, Nancy Lowrey, Herb Hackman, Emily Spurlock Harp and Justin Stabler, the concepts included in this plan will come to fruition. The leadership team assembled represents the correct approach for a community of Atmore’s size to move forward.

We recommend that the action steps laid out in this plan are followed, but understand that this plan and the business models created are meant to act as guides for your team. The plans will change as you uncover new partners and ideas.

The creation of the SSC will give way to a new renaissance for cultural and economic development in Atmore. The ideas and concepts in this plan will help provide this, but we cannot stress enough that the leadership team assembled will drive this plan more than any other program or slice of pizza. The leadership team must treat this plan and the necessary fundraising like it is inevitable, and will it to happen. Even during the points in the campaign when it seems like funding is not coming in, rest assured, with perseverance the money will be found, typically from the most unlikely of sources.

We have been honored to do this work with you, and get to know such wonderful people. Thank you for opening your homes, businesses, ideas and community to us. Atmore can, and should, become the envy of every smaller community in the south, and we believe this project will get you there.

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