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The lights are back on at Ely’s Historic State Theater

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ELY, MN -- An historic building in Ely is making a comeback after it closed its doors nearly 12 years ago.

When the decision was eventually made to renovate the space, the building was falling apart. From a leaking roof, fallen ceiling tiles and insulation scattered. A lot of work and money was needed.

"It really couldn't go on in the condition that it was in," Said David Widgahl, Chairman of the non-profit board.

It took about five years to get to this point.

But today, the entire building has been restored from foundation, new roofing, to the original seating from 1936. Roughly a 3 million dollar project that's still in the works.

"Were building a new concessions area in the next building as well, and then the second screen which were still raising funds for," said Widgahl.

Work continues where a smaller theater will be built, as well as a dedicated concession area.

David Widgahl, Chairman of the non-profit board which operates the Ely State Theater says the financial support from the community was a huge step in making these renovations a reality.

"When we needed that large sum of money to buy the equipment and open up. I thought it would be a 3-year project to raise the funds and the community really stepped forward and said we want you here, we need you here, we think it's going to be a big addition to the community."

The theater held its soft opening on June 19th with one movie.

Due to COVID-19, there are additional safety guidelines in place. The theater which can seat about 250 people is only allowed to operate at 25% capacity.

"It's certainly not what we had expected when we planned on opening," Said Theater Manager, Peter Schamber.

Schamber says are taking several precautions to keep guests safe.

"Were blocking off every other row, and we're putting two seats between each group of people, so if you buy your tickets you get to sit together but then the next group has to sit two seats away from you."

Their goals moving forward are to mix in movies with live performances.

Both Schamber and Widgahl are excited to bring culture and entertainment back into Ely.

"I think it's going to be a big traffic draw and a big economic driver for the area which is very exciting for all of us," added Widgahl.

Theater officials are hoping to host a grand opening later this summer.

They're still fundraising for renovations on the theater's second screen and it will seat roughly 65 people when it's finished.

Kaitlyn Moffett

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