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Some new details about the restoration of the Auburn Schine Theater emerged Wednesday as its owners discussed the project at a community forum.

Presenting at the Wednesday Morning Roundtable at the Auburn Hilton Garden Inn were representatives of the partners in the downtown theater's restoration: Cayuga County Arts Council Chair Ed Onori, Bowers Development Vice President Eric Smithers and Auburn Office of Planning and Economic Development Director Jennifer Haines.

Some of the new details concern the nature of that partnership.

The council, which has owned the Schine and overseen its restoration for about 20 years, brought Bowers on board the project this year through a limited liability company, Schines Theater LLC. But while the council previously said it will co-own the Schine with Bowers through the LLC, Smithers said Wednesday that Bowers owns the LLC and that "we're going to own the real estate."

After the forum, however, the council reasserted that it will co-own the theater with Bowers, saying that each party's authority and responsibility has yet to be decided.

The council will also maintain a role in the project, the presenters said, and they spoke about its advantages. Because it's a nonprofit, Smithers said, the council can receive certain grant funding tax-free. And though Bowers is familiar with Cayuga County, he continued, the council's stronger presence in the community can help it promote the Schine project and attract more partnerships.

As the project changes in the next few years from restoring the 1938 art deco theater to sustaining it, however, the council's relationship to the Schine is less clear.

"Of course we still want to have a say in what goes on there, but we really don't know financially what that means yet," Onori said.

Asked about their business plan and who would program events at the Schine, the presenters were similarly low on specifics. But based on Bowers' studies of The Stanley Theatre in Utica, Smithers stressed that the theater cannot just screen movies as it once did. He and Onori listed live music, weddings and trade shows among possible uses of what would be a revised floor plan.

Smithers said the Schine's 1,700-seat size means it won't be competing with smaller venues. On the contrary, he continued, he hopes the LLC can partner with local businesses. He hypothesized that it could help a caterer set up in the neighboring Masonic Temple or Lincoln South buildings — if they become available — in order to complement the Schine's events programming.

But such concerns are years away, Smithers cautioned. The presenters added that their restoration plans and LLC partnership are both subject to approval by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which recognized the Schine as a historic landmark in 1994. Building protection covenants related to 2004 grants are also being clarified with the office, the presenters said.

The presenters had more to say about the immediate future of the Schine — particularly the next steps in its restoration and how they'll be funded. Remediation of the theater's asbestos, lead paint and mold will begin by the end of the year, Smithers said, per the terms of the $800,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds allocated by the city for that purpose.

Haines added that the LLC has filed a consolidated funding application with the state for $1 million and stands to receive up to $2 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds if Auburn wins this year's competition. That money could support the work subsequent to remediation, namely shoring up the theater's roof and restoring its South Street marquee, Smithers said.

The Bowers vice president said the rest of the money for the $12 million project would come from a combination of grants and the firm's own investment. He said the LLC will try to knock down that price tag as much as possible, and is confident it can. But, asked about the possibility of a shortfall, Smithers said it might look at raising money from the community.

"There's an awful lot of interest in seeing this thing survive," he said.

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


Features editor for The Citizen.