- Associated Press - Thursday, May 8, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - With the renovation of the lobby of the historic State Theatre essentially complete, construction crews will be turning their attention to the auditorium in the ongoing effort to bring cinema back to downtown Sioux Falls.

The circa-1926 vaudeville and silent movie house, shuttered since about 1990, is being restored to the Beaux-Arts look from its original era but will boast a high-definition, digital projection system surrounded by high-fidelity sound, said executive director Stephen Williamson.

Scaffolding has been set up in the auditorium as crews prepare to work on new electrical and sound system wiring and heating and air conditioning ducts.

Artists will embark on complete restoration of the detailed stenciling that adorns the walls and ornamentation around the towering organ pipe chambers. Much of the stenciling was either covered with gaudy gold paint or drilled out to attach aesthetically displeasing acoustic tile, but the artists will have original photos from which to work, he said.

Williams said most moviegoers who frequented The State only remember its Art Deco appearance.

“There are all these baby boomers who used to come here but they’ve never seen the stencils,” Williamson said. “They’ve never seen the artwork.”

Officials hope to open the main level to seat about 400 people by early next year. Work will then turn to the 350-seat balcony.

The State will screen first-run films during the summer and holiday seasons, when blockbusters are typically released, but focus on art house and independent films the rest of the year while hosting an occasional small-venue concert.

The city of Sioux Falls helped by setting aside about $65,000 last year to buy the digital projection system.

Michelle Erpenbach, a city council member, said the small contribution out of a larger $1.8 million surplus was a good public-private partnership to support a great project.

Erpenbach said she and her husband often walk from their house to the downtown Phillips Avenue strip to grab a bite to eat.

“Wouldn’t it be great to walk downtown and go to a movie?” she asked. “That’s the kind of community spirit, community atmosphere that we want in that part of town.”

The nonprofit Sioux Falls State Theatre Co., which owns the theater, has raised about $3 million for the project to date and plans to raise about $3 million more, Williamson said.

Work begins only when money is in hand, he said, to avoid any debt that often plagues arts projects. His goal is to open for movies with no debt and an endowment to support operations.

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