About 20 people gathered at the North East Street fire house Wednesday evening to voice their thoughts on the future of the vacant Colony Theatre site in the 100 block of North High Street in uptown Hillsboro.
Hillsboro City Council’s Property Maintenance and Restoration Committee invited comments and ideas from the public on how to fill the space left by the theater’s recent demolition, but took no action at the end of the meeting.
The participants seemed to agree that the construction of a decorative facade mimicking the theater’s vintage marquee would complement the uptown area, while a small pocket park with shrubs and park benches would provide a peaceful place for people to sit and eat lunch.
Murals decorating the walls on either side were also discussed, possibly with a vintage movie theme.
Committee chair Ann Morris showed a local artist’s rendering of what the area could look like.
“It gives the appearance of the old Colony without being the old Colony,” Morris said.
Council member Rebecca Wilkin said she had hoped an outdoor movie theater could be constructed in the area by painting a large white “screen” on one of the walls and using a projector, but she said the facade and park idea is more feasible.
Before any further development happens, Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie said the exposed walls on either side of the space must be weatherproofed, and demolition material that was used to fill the Colony’s old basement has to settle over the winter before the area can be paved.
According to McKenzie, a facade could be constructed as soon as funding is identified.
McKenzie said the area where the rear of the Colony once stood will have to settle as well. City officials have said that area will become a parking lot, and McKenzie said talk within the administration indicates it would be paid parking to generate revenue for the city.
Many on hand at the meeting said they would prefer free parking, and McKenzie agreed. In the end, McKenzie said, it will be up to the administration to make a final decision.
Larry Dukes, former president of Southern State Community College, was on hand during the meeting, and agreed with Lana Daniels that the city should incentivize some sort of coffee shop or food service to open in the vicinity.
Dan Pearce of the Hillsboro Elks lodge said his group has a $750 grant available to the city, originally set aside for putting up electonic screens on the Colony marquee to display announcements and historic photos of Hillsboro, although he said it seems that idea may not work at this point.
According to Pearce, the funds can be used to pay for one project in its entirety, but not to pay for a portion of a project.
Morris suggested the grant may be used to pay for a decorative park bench.
Pearce said he may be able to identify larger pools of revenue in the future, perhaps involving laborers from Highland County Community Action or local boy scouts.
Several attendees agreed the area may be a way to utilize a $78,000 gift that was donated to the city in late 2013. The gift was originally made with a request for anonymity, but The Times-Gazette reported in in January 2016 that it came from William Mason Jr., who said he had donated the funds from his family’s charitable trust, intending for the money to be used at the discretion of Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings.
Hastings, who has said he would need council’s approval to allocate the funds, initially said he hoped to use the money for an uptown plaza project surrounding the Highland County Courthouse, but the project has not taken off.
Doug Farber, owner of Single Office Stop, asked to be kept in the loop on further developments surrounding the Colony project since it will affect his nearby business.
McKenzie said work on weatherproofing the walls on either side of the space will begin soon.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.