Calling the little Roxy Theater on Missoula’s Hip Strip a cultural icon of statewide importance, Gov. Steve Bullock announced a $167,605 award in tourism infrastructure and community development grant block money to fund the restoration of the historic movie theater.
“We’re here to celebrate a great partnership of public and private resources united by that common goal to restore, enhance and preserve one of Missoula’s – and indeed one of Montana’s – great treasures,” Bullock said. “The Roxy really does represent more than just what you all think of as your community theater. It’s sort of that intersection of art, culture and history – all important parts of our entire state’s identity.”
The nonprofit theater, celebrating its 80th birthday this year, will use the money to renovate the façade back to its 1930s Art Deco glory. There will be a new ticket booth facing Higgins Avenue, a new neon sign and a new paint job. The Montana Department of Commerce, which awarded the grants, expects the restoration to increase visitation to the theater by 20 percent in the first year.
Roxy Theater executive director Mike Steinberg said the theater provides the community a place for people to see films they might not otherwise see, as well as film festivals, poetry, art, plays and comedy.
“Our goal is to return the aesthetic of the theater to its original Art Deco style, as a way to be a beacon for what’s going on inside,” he said. “That’s what the Hip Strip is in a lot of ways in my mind. It’s a unique special place, and we want to return the theater to that. There’s been a lot of support for that and the state has been remarkably generous, as have a lot of individual donors.”
Steinberg has said he imagines tourists being so enamored with the look of the Roxy that they’ll have to stop and take pictures. He said the board of directors decided in the last year that they want to continue to reinvest in the look of the building.
“There’s only one Hip Strip in the whole universe,” he said. “And one thing that became clear in talking with stakeholders is that we should steward this building forward. There’s a lot of excitement around what we’re doing, and the original eye-popping Art Deco style is a way to announce the excitement of what’s going on in here.”
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The Roxy announced that it had received $67,605 of the money in the form of the tourism infrastructure grant back in February, and now the $100,000 community development block grant will greatly aid in the efforts. In addition to the grants, the Roxy has been fundraising privately for the work, which will cost around $200,000 total. The state’s Office of Tourism and Business Development Tourism Grant Program targets projects that can improve the economy through local tourism.
Bullock said that 1.5 million tourists stayed at least one night in Missoula last year, part of the state's $3.5 billion tourism industry that supports tens of thousands of jobs.
“Investing in our downtown neighborhoods will continue to build vibrant community gathering spots that entice visitors and engage residents,” Bullock said. “The Roxy Theater’s restoration project will create jobs, fuel downtown growth, and ensure the Missoula landmark is around for future generations to enjoy.”
The Roxy has 18 year-round full- and part-time employees and seven seasonal positions.
“The grant presented today reflects the value of the Roxy as an asset both to your community but also an asset to the promotion and economic impact of tourism across the state,” Bullock told a crowd that gathered in one of the Roxy’s three theater rooms. “These are gathering spaces for the community and the Roxy is certainly no exception. It’s been that landmark in downtown Missoula for nearly 80 years. It’s a place where friends and families gather to share their love of the arts.”
The Roxy was destroyed by an unsolved arson in 1994, but was rebuilt and reopened in 1998 as a dollar theater. It closed again in 2000 when the owners died, but the International Wildlife Film Festival bought the building in 2002. That event will celebrate its 40th anniversary when it is held at the Roxy from April 15-22.
“The Roxy is a historic asset in Montana that requires preservation and ongoing investment,” said Steinberg said. “Our restoration effort emphasizes the Roxy’s dedication to making Montana a unique destination that will serve audiences of all ages.”