The future of Ann Arbor’s historic State Theater as a place to see great cinema in Ann Arbor is in jeopardy. The State Theater is renowned for playing new independent films and midnight showings of older classics.
The State Theater LLC, the ownership group that owns the State Theater and the rest of the building, has proposed to ask the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission to review plans to transition the second floor into office space. Their proposal is to be voted on by the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission at their next meeting on December 12 at 7pm. The ground first floor of the building already consists of an Urban Outfitters store.
Ann Arbor’s characteristic art-loving community fears that this is part of an ever-increasing need for downtown living and office space. Ann Arbor has a wide-reaching reputation as a great city for movies, performing arts, and cultural events. That cultural profile will be diminished by the loss of the State Theater and its two screens.
The management of the historic non-profit Michigan Theater, which already manages the programming of the State Theater, has proposed to lead a community effort to save and preserve the State Theater for present and future moviegoers. The Michigan Theater’s proposal involves purchasing the second floor of the building and enhancing the interiors of the State Theater cinemas to satisfy present day audiences while remaining committed to preserving the theater’s historic use and architectural significance.
Facts about Ann Arbor’s State Theater
- The State Theater is an historic and important Art Deco Cinema Style theater designed by the renowned architect C. Howard Crane (who also designed Detroit’s Fox Theatre).
- The State Theater opened in 1942 and has shown movies continuously for 71 years.
- The current use of the State Theater for both commercial retail and movies is viable and maintains the historic use and architectural significance of the building.
- The Michigan Theater has programmed and marketed the films at the State since 1997.
- The State Theater attracts over 50,000 movie goers annually, which is above average among Art House theaters world-wide. If renovated in a way sensitive to its historic origins and upgraded to meet modern movie image, sound and audience comfort standards, that attendance would double.
Impact on Movie and Live Event Programming in Ann Arbor
One of the key reasons that the Michigan Theater has been able to bring high quality films to the Ann Arbor community is the flexibility that comes with the presence of four screens. If the current proposal by the State Theater owners is approved, the Michigan Theater’s ability to provide access to those films will be substantially diminished. With film programming cut in half, this is especially significant. Ann Arbor’s movie-loving community stands to lose a large number of films that require a commitment of six or more weeks. With the loss of the two screens at State Theater, Michigan Theater will be left with its own two screens for programming—this would force fewer days available for concerts, plays, author events, business meetings and other community events currently hosted by Michigan Theater.
Impact on the Ann Arbor Downtown Neighborhood
If the State Theater is converted to office space, foot traffic in the State Street area district will diminish and surrounding retail businesses will suffer.
The proposal submitted by the State Theater makes no reference to the Marquee which, in and of itself, is historically and architecturally significant and is an icon in the Ann Arbor community. If the proposal is approved, there is n o guarantee that the Marquee will be maintained, used in an appropriate manner, or lit into the late evening.