The Strand Theater at 1102 Main opened in 1917, but now the long narrow building has that worn-out look inside from not having been occupied since 2009.
Being without heat or electricity since its final tenant locked the doors, the downtown building that fronts Main Street was chilly Tuesday morning. Dustin and Laney Roths stood inside and described their restoration plans for the 10,000-square-foot property, which they purchased in late November.
“I think probably most of the people that live in Hays have never even seen this tin ceiling, because it was a drop ceiling,” Roths said, staring up at the high ceiling perhaps 30 feet overhead. “You can see where the drop ceiling was, just from the paint.”
Renovation hasn’t even begun, but the Roths are already getting calls from people who want to reserve a rental date for the soon-to-be Strand Event Center.
“We’re optimistic about how downtowns and city centers like this are growing,” Dustin said of the new venture. “The need is there. We already have been receiving calls to rent, even some of the nonprofits asking for three-year contracts. I mean, look at this place — they are putting a little bit of faith in us to make sure that they like it.”
“We love downtown,” Laney affirmed.
Callers are talking about contracts and asking for wedding dates, he said.
“They’re asking us to reserve spots before we even have a contract or even an ability to take a deposit from them,” Dustin said, “or even a finish date for construction.”
One of many Strand theaters around the country, the one in Hays eventually evolved into The Village Shop men’s store, then ultimately a Goodwill thrift shop.
As the new owners, the Roths plan to hire a contractor, restore the interior and open to the public sometime this summer for wedding receptions, concerts, meetings, speaking events and entertainment.
The first event will be an open house to let the public see the restored building, said Laney, who is an early childhood education instructor in the Teacher Education Department at Fort Hays State University.
“Our hope is that we can bring back to life an older building in downtown Hays and have it be something that people can use and enjoy,” Laney said. “It’s a shame to see it sit empty.”
The Hays couple bought the 50-foot by 100-foot building for $120,000 from Bank of Hays, which gained ownership from Plainville businessman Chuck Comeau as part of the package of properties foreclosed and sold in Comeau’s DFC Holdings and Liberty Group Inc. bankruptcy.
With the help of Brett Ottley, design-build manager for Commercial Builders, 2717 Canal Blvd., the Roths have crafted an initial plan for the estimated $300,000 renovation. That includes restoring the Victorian architecture and 5,000-square-foot main floor with its lofty ceiling, low stage, pine floors and balconies, while adding a spiral staircase, doors to the alley, a wide staircase to the basement and bathrooms.
Downstairs, the full basement will be outfitted with a bride’s room.
Commercial Builders and Ottley have helped others downtown restore old buildings, including most recently the 1930s mission-style gas station at 13th and Main streets now housing eyeSMILE Vision and Dental.
The Strand plan is to maximize capacity.
“We’re hoping 300 for seated,” Laney said, “if you’re talking about a wedding reception.”
The Roths are shopping now for a contractor. Anyone interested in looking over the space and submitting a bid can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. They hope to nail down a contractor by the end of the month and also are seeking old photos of the interior, which have been hard to find.
“If anybody has pictures of what it used to look like on the inside, we found just a couple from the original building, but we’d love to see what it used to look like and try to make it look as similar as we can,” Laney said.
Located in downtown’s Historic Chestnut Street District, it’s one of the 80 buildings on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
The couple is getting financing for the renovation and applied for a Heritage Trust Fund matching grant from the Kansas Historical Society. The grants go as high as $90,000 to help with preservation work, such as restoring the ceiling or installing heating and air conditioning. They will also seek tax credits designated for rehabilitation of historic buildings from the State Historic Preservation Office.
“It’s not real viable without some sort of financial help, so we went into it knowing we would need that to make it a profitable venture,” said Dustin. “The tax credits are a break on our taxes over the years.”
The event center fits well with the bridal and wedding segment of their existing business, Diamond R Jewelry, 807 Main, Dustin said. And nonprofits will get a discount, they said.
Once open for business, renters can hire whoever they want for catering, as well as bring their own alcohol.
“Our business model is to let everyone use whoever they would like,” Dustin said. “We are going to be pretty flexible on our space in order to get it rented out and not try to eke out every dollar we can on people.”
Now the couple is working to sell all the items left in the building, including pine floorboards and corbels from the old opera house in Hays, as well as display cases and cabinets from the theater’s days as a retail establishment. Once all of that is cleared away, the restoration will begin.
“We have every intention of preserving history when we do this and not destroying it,” Dustin said.