RATON, N.M. — For years, the Shuler Theater in this once-booming New Mexico mining town sat empty in a desolate downtown. It had long passed its heyday as a hot spot for Italian immigrants and Hispanic workers who visited to take in a
But today the 101-year-old Raton venue again is attracting audiences from as far as Trinidad, Colorado just across the state line for variety shows and will soon be ready to screen any Star Wars movie. That change comes as New Mexico is joining other states in pushing an initiative to revitalize downtown districts in isolated, small towns by rehabilitating aging, historic
An economic development program, similar to efforts in Iowa and Illinois, seeks save the often-forgotten facilities like the Shuler Theater with help on refurbishing buildings and grants for new digital projection and sound equipment. With state funding, cities can develop new business plans and retool
Since January 2013, the state has set aside around $100,000 each for eight
Like refurbished small
Barela said he came up with the idea about reviving
Barela said he had no idea that similar publicly and privately funded programs were taking place in other states.
For example, the Iowa Economic Development Authority's Iowa Downtown Resource Center announced last year a pilot program aimed at rescuing performance venues in historic buildings in seven rural communities. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency also has helped historic
Ken Stein, president of the League of Historic American Theaters, said a historic
Bill Fegan, who helps run the Shuler Theater in Raton, says the revamped venue is already helping the city's downtown. This week, a new Italian restaurant opened. "We have people walking around downtown when we have shows," Fegan said. "It feels alive."
Tabatha Lawson, executive director of Lovington Main Street in Lovington, New Mexico, said the newly refurbished Lea Theatre is keeping residents in town for entertainment. "Some residents are so excited because they remember coming here as kids," Lawson said. "And they end up telling us about their first kiss."
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras.