The oldest movie theater in Staunton is about to begin showing the newest Hollywood films. The makeover of the historic Dixie Cinemas will be finished this week, but it will not last forever.

The Dixie in downtown Staunton has shown movies for nearly a century; most recently second-run films on four aging screens. The entire building is set to be transformed into a performing arts center just a few years from now, but movie-goers will not have to wait that long for a new experience.

A little paint and a lot more leg and elbow room will mark the new era of the Dixie theater. Plush new seats and decor, and a new surround-sound system will greet movie-goers who will see first-run films here for the first time in decades.

"We really made the upstairs super comfortable, which is a change from what they've been," said Dixie Manager Adam Greenbaum. "We want people to come in here and forget their lives for a little bit and just enjoy themselves."

But the clock is already ticking on the cinemas.

"We're happy that Adam is doing what he's doing here to make it enjoyable, for now," stated Judy Mosedale, executive director at the Staunton Performing Arts Center. "But what we want the public to know is that this is not permanent, because what we're going to be doing is even greater than a movie theater."

The Staunton Performing Arts Center owns the Dixie, and the vacant Arcadia building right next door. Both will be transformed into live venues: a 125-seat cabaret in the Arcadia, and a 525-seat theater in the Dixie. The nonprofit plans to do it in two phases, as donations trickle in.

"People still believe in the project," said Mosedale. "They're just not giving as fast and as big a check as they might. But a lot of people have said, ‘Come back to me.'"

The performing arts center hopes to open the Arcadia in 2012; the Dixie in 2015. That gives Greenbaum just five years to recover all he has invested to revitalize the Dixie.

"If we make this place great, it's worth it," he said. "If you're loyal to a place and you believe in it, then it rewards you."

Greenbaum points to successes at the Visulite just two blocks away, and Vinegar Hill in Charlottesville, as proof that he has a way with historic theaters.

The Staunton Performing Arts Center needs over $5 million for phase one of its project. That is to create a small theater, special-events space and offices in the Arcadia building. The nonprofit has about half the money it needs, and says 2011 will be a critical fund-raising year.

Reported by Ken Slack
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