SANDUSKY - Burdened by $700,000 in debt and the defeat last week of a 0.25-mill levy for operations, the historic Sandusky State Theatre has closed its doors after 77 years of movies, concerts, and drama productions.
The Spanish-style theater on Columbus Avenue downtown hosted its last event Tuesday night, the Ebony Fashion Fair.
George Mylander, a former Sandusky mayor who is an honorary member of the theater's board of directors, said yesterday that the nonprofit agency that owns the venue decided to cease operations and cancel shows scheduled for the rest of the 2005-06 season.
"We've reached a point where it was impossible for us to continue operations because we did not have the necessary funds," Mr. Mylander said. "It's a dark day for Sandusky."
Along with the theater's shutdown, executive director Terri Bergman has resigned, he added.
In the meantime, the Sandusky/Erie County Community Foundation has offered financing to cover utilities, insurance, and maintenance for the theater for six months, Mr. Mylander said. In addition, the foundation has agreed to retain a Columbus law firm to help with the theater's books and may hire someone to find a new executive director.
"There's just periods when things look pretty dark, and this is one of those, but I feel optimistic the theater will operate again," Mr. Mylander said.
Mel Stauffer, the foundation's secretary, declined to comment.
The Sandusky State Theatre opened in 1928 and enjoyed years of success as a vaudeville venue, then as a movie house. But the rise of television and suburban development in the 1950s began to hurt the theater's fortunes, and it nearly closed in the early 1980s.
State Theatre Inc., a nonprofit agency, bought the theater in 1987 and raised $2 million for renovations that were finished in the early 1990s. Since then, the theatre has hosted acts such as comedian Bill Cosby, country legend Johnny Cash, and the Boston Pops Orchestra.
The levy for the theater, which would have raised nearly $500,000 a year, was defeated nearly 4-1. Erie County Commissioner Nancy McKeen, a former member of the theater's board, said the financial problems of Sandusky employers such as Delphi Corp. contributed to the tax's rejection.
A lifelong Erie County resident, Ms. McKeen described herself as "heartsick" over the theater's shutdown.
"It's a bad time economically here," she said. "I understand people don't want more taxes, but for the money involved, $7.36 a year for a $100,000 house, I guess a little long-term thinking would have helped. But the people have spoken, and I think we'll all regret it."