By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Enid Regional Development Alliance board of directors voted Thursday to provide monetary support for plans to renovate and reopen the historic Esquire Theater in downtown Enid.
Enid-based Retro Theaters Limited LLC approached ERDA for help with plans to purchase, renovate and reopen the Esquire Theater.
The Esquire is a one-screen theater at 217 W. Randolph, currently being used as an indoor soccer arena.
“The dream is to return the theater to the downtown area and turn the Esquire into a classic revival theater,” said Mark Marshall, one of the founding partners of Retro Theaters Limited. “This would be a first not only in the state of Oklahoma, but in our surrounding states as well.”
The ERDA board voted Thursday to assist that vision by helping Retro Theaters cover the cost of architectural plans needed to present to potential investors.
ERDA will provide $5,000 to cover half the cost of the architectural plans, provided Retro Theaters Limited can raise the remaining $5,000.
ERDA Executive Director Brent Kisling said resurrecting the Esquire Theater is a good investment in Enid, particularly the downtown area.
“The Esquire is still a beautiful facility, and they have great visions for turning it into an important attraction for downtown Enid,” Kisling said. “The ERDA board believes it’s a great idea and one that has merit, and we wanted to be supportive of getting this plan off the ground.”
Kisling said redevelopment of the Esquire Theater could help boost downtown Enid and serve as a quality-of-life draw for potential residents.
“It would be a great attraction for bringing even more people to the downtown area, and it fits well with the investment our community has made recently in downtown,” Kisling said. “It’s yet another culture and entertainment venue that will help us as we recruit workforce to this area.”
Marshall said Enid is primed for a downtown theater, and a family friendly theater would be well-received.
“All of the indications we’ve received so far have been very positive,” he said.
If the theater renovation plans move forward, it primarily would show classic movies.
“Enid is the perfect venue for this,” Marshall said. “The movies that are coming out now are segmenting the audience more and more. But, the classic movies appeal to everyone, and they’re family friendly.”
Marshall gained a love of film and classic movies after attending a show at the Esquire as a boy.
“The first movie I consciously remember seeing was a reissue of ‘Bambi’ in 1966,” Marshall said. He credits that movie experience with helping start him down the path of a professional career in the film industry.
“It awoke me to the power film has on an audience, and that really set my feet on the path to do something like that,” he said. “The Esquire made that possible.”
After graduating from Phillips University, Marshall moved to Los Angeles and pursued a successful 30-year career in the film industry. Several years ago he returned to Enid and opened River Rock Entertainment with his brother, Mike. The film company produces historical documentaries.
Marshall said reviving the Esquire could introduce classic film to younger generations, and rekindle the love of film in older audiences.
“We’ve all seen these movies at home on TV,” Marshall said. “But, seeing a classic movie on the big screen is like seeing it for the first time. When you see it on a 40-foot screen it’s a whole new experience.”
The loss of small, independent downtown theaters “was the sad end of an era,” Marshall said. Now, he said the community and the downtown market are primed to revive the theater.
“I think we need to bring back some of that showmanship and some of that community spirit by having a theater that everyone can rally around and enjoy going to,” he said.
Jared McClellan, one of the three principals in the project, along with Mark and Mike Marshall, said downtown Enid is an ideal market for the theater revival project.
“There is a lot of movement in downtown Enid right now,” McClellan said. “With the site plan for a hotel moving forward, with the Renaissance Project, Convention Hall reopening ... it’s an obvious piece of the puzzle to add a full-time entertainment venue. We think this will be very marketable because downtown Enid already is very vibrant.”
McClellan said the renovated Esquire Theater would become the only full-time classic revival theater within a five hours’ drive, with the nearest similar venue currently located in Austin, Texas.
But, plans for the venue go beyond classic movies. McClellan said space will be available in front of the screen for live entertainment, and the screen could be used for live showings of events like the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl.
Plans also are being explored for a film festival, and Marshall said he hopes to use his contacts in LA to bring film makers here to “discuss the craft of film making and show their work for local audiences.”
McClellan said he already has been in contact with organizers from Kansas and Texas interested in utilizing the theater for special events.
Taken together, McClellan said the events in a revitalized Esquire Theater have “the potential to really put Enid on the map in terms of entertainment.”
McClellan said the Esquire still is in good condition structurally, and still has the old projector room, auditorium and screen. He said the major work required to reopen it as a theater would be aesthetic renovation “to make it a first-class facility consistent with what’s happening downtown and what we want to happen downtown.”
Retro Theaters Limited has not yet acquired the building, and the overall plan is in the early stages of capitalization.
If investors are lined up, McClellan said the goal is to reopen the Esquire some time in 2013.