LIMA — In a little more than three weeks, weather permitting, the Ohio Theatre in downtown Lima will have a new roof covering each of its three levels.
It’s a milestone that will bring the new owners of the historic theater one giant step closer to reopening the long-vacant concert hall and performing arts venue as a professional dinner theater and piano bar.
It’s been a lengthy endeavor … and a costly one.
Co-owners Joe Correll and Michael Bouson purchased the theater last year after an extensive search for a place to revive their Avante Garage Dinner Theatre productions. Both are television producers from Los Angeles.
Bouson, who attended Miami University in Oxford, was at the theater on Friday — as he has been every day for the past three months — as a large crane outside on North Street lifted roofing materials some 100 feet in the air to the roof of the structure. He said the roof replacement has been needed for 40 years.
Through the assistance of a state-backed Property Assessed Clean Energy loan, Bouson said the roof will for the first time in its lengthy history be insulated “because in the winter it’s been very very cold in here.”
The roofing contractor is Cotterman and Co. of Minster.
The new roof is an investment in the future of the theater, even if the owners will likely never recoup their total investments.
“The Ohio Theatre is both priceless and worthless,” Bouson said with a laugh on Friday. “We’ve invested $1 million of our own money and that’s still not enough to completely bring it back to its original state. But we’d like this theater to be around for the next 100 years. We’re deadly serious about preserving this property.”
Bouson and Correll had intended to hold their first stage productions at the renovated theater this summer. It proved to be an ambitious timeline.
“There were delays in the loan process — through the fault of no one — but the biggest obstacle was COVID-19,” Bouson said. “We can’t order restaurant equipment until we close on the loan, which we hope to do in August, and then there’s a three-month wait from the manufacturers — again due to COVID.”
Our new timeline is that, hopefully, we’ll be able to open for a Halloween party in whatever state of construction we are by then. The key to that is having working bathrooms,” said Bouson. “Then hopefully later this fall the bakery and piano bar will open. For the main theater, we’re realistically look at next spring.”
The new theater owners group, under the corporate name PLAYWITHYOURFOOD LLC, earlier this year received a 12-year, 50% property tax abatement from Lima City Council to renovate the structure and turn it into a dinner theater venue, bakery/cafe, catering venue and bar.
Necessary repairs beyond the roof included plaster, paint, carpeting and fabrics, new electrical, plumbing and gas lines and an upgrade to the heating and ventilation system.
The project will create a minimum of 10 permanent full-time jobs and 35 part-time jobs at the site when construction is complete, according to the owners’ tax abatement application.
Bouson and Correll have founded a nonprofit, Friends of the Ohio Theatre, to raise money for the renovation and preservation of the historic theater. Bouson said the corporation will later be turned over to an independent board of directors. More information is available at www.friendsoftheohiotheater.com.
“We took a leap of faith and here we are,” Bouson said. “With no regrets.”