Years in the making, the City of Fort Wayne helped break ground on renovations to the historic Clyde Theatre Thursday afternoon. Stakeholders and investors were on hand to help launch the projected year-long renovation process.
On January 1, 2013, fifth district councilman Geoff Paddock began his first term on Fort Wayne City Council, and was in the process of settling into his office.
“And I think the very first person who contacted me was Rick Kinney, telling me about this great plan that he had for revitalizing this great, historic theater and hoping to give a real shot in the arm to this area of town,” said Paddock.
The Clyde Theatre, nestled off of Bluffton Road in Quimby Village and located in Paddock’s district, was built in 1951 and became a staple in Fort Wayne a half-century ago before shuttering its doors in 1993. It has not reopened since.
Kinney, a Fort Wayne native, is the President of Even Keel Event Productions and purchased the Clyde in 2012 with the hopes of reviving not only the theater, but also a stagnant part of Fort Wayne’s history. Now, a full renovation of the Clyde is ready to begin.
“This has been a long time coming,” Kinney said at the groundbreaking. “I went through a lot of different things to get to this point, but I think it often takes some vision and a lot of work to get to this point.”
It also took money: in order to revive the theater, Kinney needed to raise $5 million in public or private investment. Fort Wayne’s Legacy Committee and the Regional Cities Initiative each awarded $1 million for renovations.
Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership CEO John Sampson said he and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation were impressed with Kinney’s work ethic and vision.
“It was Rick’s passion and persistence and dadgum gritty determination to make something happen when people say it will never happen," Sampson said. "And here we stand today ready to start this great project.”
But the funding that finally got the project’s wheels in motion came from Chuck and Lisa Surack of Sweetwater, who pledged a $1.5 million private investment in April.
Sweetwater chief operating officer John Hopkins spoke to the importance of the theater to Chuck and Lisa Surack, as well as its place in Fort Wayne’s past, and future.
“Chuck has very fond memories of coming to the Clyde for movies all through and after high school, Hall’s Drive-In was his hang place, Quimby Village was hopping," said Hopkins. "Chuck and Lisa want to bring that back.”
Mayor Tom Henry was on hand at the groundbreaking, and spoke about the importance of revitalizing Quimby Village and the southeast part of Fort Wayne. He also shared a more personal connection to the theater.
“Of the Clyde Theatre, I have special memories. My wife and I, we were dating back then, and we used to go up to the balcony…” Henry said, pausing for laughter, “... and really enjoyed the Clyde.”
For Kinney, Thursday’s groundbreaking was more than seeing through an arduous five-year process; it was the beginning of fulfilling a lifelong ambition.
“I think everyone kind of understands why this is important to Fort Wayne and the Northeast Indiana region. I certainly do,” Kinney said. “This is my dream, it’s been my dream since I was a kid.”
The renovated Clyde Theatre will feature 2,200 seats, general admission and special events center. It is expected to be completed by summer 2018.