Aid to renovate Alhambra Theater should help Duluth's West Theatre grow, host wider array of events
An assistance package should provide $200,000 to complete the renovation of the neighboring building in the Spirit Valley neighborhood.
DULUTH — Bob Boone’s efforts to revive yet another theater in Duluth’s Spirit Valley neighborhood got a boost this week, courtesy of the local economic development authority.
Commissioners voted 5-0 Monday in favor of a plan to funnel $150,000 into Duluth’s 1200 Fund with the understanding that the money will flow to Boone, who is working to renovate the former Alhambra Theater at 321 N. Central Ave. The 1200 Fund will chip in an additional $50,000 in funding — the most its bylaws allow — for a total support package of $200,000. Duluth’s 1200 Fund was created in the recession years of the 1980s with the aim of incentivizing business expansions and relocations that would bring more jobs to the city.
The proposed aid package still needs to go to the Duluth City Council for final approval.
Boone already owns the West Theatre , which is located next door to the Alhambra. He renovated and reopened that cinema in 2019.
When the neighboring building went up for sale, Boone knew it only as the former home of the Interior Tomato, a shop that sold hydroponic gardening equipment and supplies. Nevertheless, he was intrigued by the opportunity to expand his operations.
Only after he toured the building and discovered the ornate plasterwork that had been concealed by a suspended ceiling, did Boone come to learn that it had first opened as a Vaudeville venue called the Alhambra Theater in 1913. He bought it.
Adam Fulton, deputy director of Duluth’s planning and economic development division, told DEDA commissioners Monday why city administration and staff support the idea of assisting Boone in his efforts to breathe new life into the Alhambra.
“We have determined that this project is really critical to the revitalization of that West Duluth/Spirit Valley neighborhood. We have already seen positive spin-off effects due to the West Theatre’s existence in that neighborhood. So, we’re very pleased to see them expand, establish a more robust plan for a long-term business and create a greater level of activity there,” he said.
Boone said he plans to punch a hole in a shared wall between the two theaters and operate them as a single business.
He explained that the 61-seat Alhambra will allow him to screen films on Fridays and Saturdays, as large film distributors require, freeing up the larger West Theatre to host concerts and live events, with its seating for up to 250 people, during those periods of peak social activity.
With the extra help from DEDA and the 1200 Fund, Boone said he should have the Alhambra ready to open by June, with the caveat that the only wrinkle may be the lead time involved in acquiring the needed film projection equipment.
Arik Forsman, who sits on DEDA, the 1200 Fund Board and the Duluth City Council, praised Boone’s efforts, noting, “This sits right next to the Kmart property, and there are goals of having revitalization beyond just these two buildings.”
Boone said he redid the West Theatre on a “shoestring” budget with the help of about 90 different volunteers.
He said the community support also manifested itself in the form of numerous donations, including “a player piano that will fit in there just deliciously.”
Tackling additional work at the Alhambra has required some creativity on Boone’s part. He described creating what he calls a Producers’ Club, to help fund the project, with a dozen members each providing a $10,000 investment, which he plans to repay with 6% interest “just because this will triple the activity at the West and bring a much wider variety of events.”
“It’s a delight to work on, except for the no-sleep part,” Boone said of the undertaking.