When Valerie Golik stands inside the old Denis Theatre, she doesn’t see a dilapidated cinema that has fallen into disrepair over the past few years.
Instead, she envisions a thriving cultural and arts center that could become an entertainment hub for uptown Mt. Lebanon and the surrounding communities.
“People remember the Denis Theatre, but it’s a whole new game in town,” Golik said. “We want it to be a place where the moment you walk in the door, you know the arts are important; a place where the arts thrive.”
Golik, the executive director of The Denis Theatre Foundation, and countless volunteers from around the area are relishing this promising, albeit challenging, task.
The once popular cinema has rotted over the years after closing in 2004. The exterior grand marquee was torn down and stuffed into the lobby, and the drop down ceiling is falling apart. Meanwhile, the entire ventilation system needs to be overhauled, fire sprinklers need to be installed and the building must be made handicap accessible.
To overhaul the building, the Foundation is working hard to raise the $2.5 million needed to get the first phase of the project off the ground. By late 2012, the cinema’s main lobby, an upstairs lounge area and one theater could be open for business.
They hope their fundraising effort and the renovations will show to the community and government leaders that the project is viable. The Foundation is also participating in the online “Day of Giving” fundraiser on Oct. 4 in which people can make donations at www.pittsburghgives.org.
The Foundation has already raised about $1 million and spent some of that money to purchase the Denis from D. Raja, a candidate running for Allegheny County chief executive. Golik said the Foundation has set the “lofty goal” of raising an additional $500,000 by the end of the year.
People say, ‘Oh, I’ll come when it’s built.’ If we don’t get the funding, it won’t get built. … It’s a very critical time,” Golik said. “All the hard work is happening in Phase 1.”
The architectural designs are not yet complete, but the second phase includes a café, meeting rooms for community groups and a downstairs theater that can accommodate movies, stage acts and lectures. That phase of the project likely won’t be finished until 2015, depending on the funding.
Golik said they hope to introduce programming for all ages that includes plays, art exhibits and diverse speaker series.
“I think it’s very important to show people that the Denis is a cinema, but is has a focus,” Golik said. “It can be and will be so much more.”
She said they hope the renovation project can help to spur economic growth in uptown Mt. Lebanon and surrounding communities. The proximity to trolley lines and other South Hills neighborhoods could help make it a cultural hub for the region.
It’s the promise she sees while walking around a darkened movie theater.
“Ten years from now, I see a vibrant theater with activities all day long that becomes a (hub) of the community and inspires people to do artistic things,” Golik said. “I think it’s a project that resonates. A lot of people want to see this happen.”
For more information about the Denis, go to www.denistheatre.org