Update: The State Theater gets closer to opening

Curious about what was to come, a man who was strolling down Fountain Avenue with a coffee in-hand peeked through the glass doors of The State Theater in Downtown Springfield.

He lucked out because at the same time, one of the building owners – Rod Hatfield – happened to be walking toward the doors from inside. The passerby explained that he was a 1979 Springfield North High School grad who currently lives in San Francisco and was only back for the day. He asked to go inside, and while The State wasn’t officially open, Hatfield invited him in.

The man was visibly taken by the nostalgia of the space. He shared some of his favorite memories of enjoying the theater in his younger days, and expressed his gratitude to Hatfield for bringing the building back to life.

The same feeling of nostalgia and the bridged connection between memories and excitement for the future is what Hatfield and his co-owners hope continues to take hold among local community members also as the doors to The State Theater get closer to opening.

Many changes have taken place since The Altered State Group (ASG) took ownership of the space in late 2021. 

After years of sitting empty and uncared for, the local investment organization - run by  business partners behind ASG are HatfieldNick Demana, Patrick Field, and Dr. Ash Ahmed - has been working to overhaul some major structure and use issues with the building. 

Here's a look at some of the updates that have been made to bring the building back to life

For five years before the ASG purchased the building, it wasn’t in use, meaning there was no heating or cooling and the water hadn’t been turned on, Hatfield say.

“It was its own ecosystem,” he says. “And just for human comfort, we had to do something because in here in January you could see your breath and would have to have a parka on versus the summer when it could feel like a sauna.”

The heating and cooling is now updated to a state of the art system that can even be controlled using a smart phone.

A 1,000 lb HVAC unit was installed on the roof and the original 1927 ductwork – which was compromised by holes and excessive wear – was modified to create a fresh, functional system to keep the building appropriately heated and cooled, he says.

The guts of the building – such as the HVAC and plumbing – are parts that people don’t immediately see or think of, but are some of the most important and expensive fixes that have been made to The State Theater, Hatfield says.

When the water was turned on after the building was purchased, pipes exploded because of their age and lack of up-keep. Hatfield says the usable historical fixtures were saved and are still in use, but all new, modern-day plumbing was installed to ensure the bathrooms and sinks throughout the entire building are fully functional and up-to-date.

Water was also rerouted and now goes to the new bar area.

Wrap Around Bar
Where many patrons will remember a wall with doorway entrances into the theater space now stands a wrap around bar, creating an open-concept entrance into the entertainment area.

The bar is a well-placed gathering space that seamlessly welcomes guests into The State Theater without the former wall creating a divide.

“We wanted something that was kind of a statement and had a dramatic impact,” Hatfield says. “We wanted to expand the footprint of our ability to host more social engagements, so we decided to open the wall, which dramatically opens the space.”

The new bar is on the site of the concession stand so it still has the same feel of serving and welcoming guests, while also showcasing the new, fresh vibes of what the space is transforming into.

To continue creating a more open feel for the space, some of the railing at the top level as you head toward the screen has been removed and more stairways have been added. At the railing at the edge of the next level, a countertop is in the works to allow for additional seating and a place for patrons to sit their drinks or food.

“We’re adding the bartop on the mid-level facing the screen, and we opened the railing so the overall vibe of the space is more open and accessible and conductive to being a gathering space,” Hatfield says.

Advanced Multimedia
In addition to The State’s group of ownership partners, The State also has a group of operations partners known as State Theater Productions and made up of Hatfield, Brian Traylor, Barley Davis and Andrew Lazear.

The most remarkable shift within the theater, says Traylor is the multimedia updates and advancements.

“You’re in a 100-year-old building, but with state-of-the-art video and audio and internet,” Hatfield says. “Downtown Springfield had nine theaters in its zenith. The State Theater is the last one standing, and we want it to be a space that honors that tradition while taking it into the 21st century.”

Traylor says the operations partners want to find a ways to honor the traditional experience of going to the cinema in ways that are new and relevant to now.

The State will predominantly serve as a rental space, Traylor says, but also wants to bring in larger events to be an entertainment hub – think multimedia concerts, live-streamed performances, and even video game tournaments.

“When you look at the physical space of the building, you think about where Springfield has been,” he says. “Then when you look at the screen, you think about where it’s going; you look at state-of-the-art technology.

“We want Springfield to be known as a creative, hip place with good local bands, talented artists, good filmmakers – rooted in the past but focused on the future.”
In addition to the giant screen, top-notch connectivity and streaming capabilities, the theater also has capabilities for light shows to provide an immersive experience throughout the space.

“This is solidifying the idea of an entertainment district in Downtown Springfield,” Traylor says. “We want to be an entertainment location like the brewery.”

Hatfield added that The State could serve as a bridge between The Clark State Performing Arts Center’s Kuss Auditorium and Mother Stewart’s Brewing.

“Young filmmakers and artists from Columbus and Cincinnati and Dayton, they’re coming here to see what’s being created, and they’re interested in the arts and culture scene happening here,” Traylor says. “Springfield is starting to have destination-worthy events, and we’re starting to see people who come to make a weekend out of the Downtown experience – all consolidated within a walking district.”

The State Theater will be included in some of this year’s Holiday in the City programming, and Hatfield, Traylor and their partnership groups are hopeful people coming Downtown will stop in to enjoy and celebrate the space.
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Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.