The State Theater prepares to come back to life

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of stories to appear in The Hub about the new life being brought to The State Theater.
 
When Rod Hatfiled thinks back to the years of his youth in Springfield, he has fond memories of time spent at The State Theater

And so do his business partners Nick Demana, Patrick Field, and Dr. Ash Ahmed, who together make up the local investment organization Altered State Group (ASG), which gained ownership of The State Theater at the end of 2021. In addition to being partners, the quartet are lifelong friends who all graduated from Catholic Central High School in the 1980s.

"One of the most important aspects of this project is the deep community reach," Hatfield says. "Generations of people have great memories and personal family milestones that occurred here, so for me, that makes it sacred ground.

My grandparents had dates here. I remember seeing matinees here as a kid - Disney movies. Just the smell of fresh popcorn. And I myself had dates here in high school."

After the theater's prior owner fell into bankruptcy and downtown development arm SpringForward was able to regain local possession of the space, Hatfield says ASG knew it was their opportunity to revitalize The State.

The group won the bid and took official ownership of the property on Dec.23, 2021. 

"Everyone involved in the core of this project has a significant, lifelong attachment to the building and is in a position to make it move forward," Hatfield says. "It is an honor and a privilege to be serving the community in this way. We're so passionate about it, and in a lot of ways, this is my life's dream coming true."

Built in 1927, The State was originally owned by Chakeres Amusement Company, which was first founded in 1911 by Phil Chakeres.

The State was the very first theater built as a "cinema palace" - a singular theater created for the dedicated use of showing cinematic films as opposed to live performances, Hatfield says. It was one of the nine theaters that existed in Springfield at the time. 

"The idea of a 'cinema palace' back then in the roaring '20s was to reach out to the general public and give them a feeling of opulence," Hatfield says. "It made it feel accessible for a nickel, a dime, a quarter, because you're in a 'castle,' and this is one of the last vestiges of that kind of opulence."

ASG's goal is to preserve that opulence and make The State a functional space for current community use while staying sensitive to the historical significance of the building, Hatfield says. 

First steps included updating the electrical setups within the building, and addressing a partial roof collapse due to excessive rain just a week after ASG's building purchase was complete. 

Springfield native Craig Dillon - owner of Craig Dillon Architects - is serving as the architect of record for The State Theater project, and says fixing the roof was a prudent first step to ensuring interior updates avoid damage and that the building stays well-maintained for years to come. 

Needed updates are also underway to the building's plumbing, as well as additional safety upgrades.

"We are excited to reactivate an iconic Springfield building for the 21st century," says Dillon, a Kentron Ridge graduate."We want to maintain the historical characteristics and defining elements of the space, yet modernize it and bring in up-to-date types of technology."

Hatfield says Dillon was an important choice as an architectural partner because of the role he has played in bringing new life to other key structures in Springfield, including the John Legend Theater and Hatch Artist Studios.

Adding to the local involvement, Hucklebuck Design Studio has partnered with ASG to create the branding designs for the theater.

While The State does need some love to bring back its vibrancy, the key elements of its livelihood can still be seen and felt. Intricate designs still line some walls, beautiful chandeliers still hang as they did many years ago, and a sorted pile of marquee letters lay waiting to retake their place of prominence, welcoming crowds back inside. 

Among the updates to come for The State will be a new bar, fiber optics and fresh sound and lighting to bring the technology in the building up to par with the goals for its future use. 

"The State Theater can be a creative community space," Hatfield says, adding that ASG wants to fill the theater with everything from live musical performances to themed movie nights, and video game tournaments to DJ dance parties. 

The State will also be made available for community use for events, such as office parties, class reunions, wedding receptions, and more.

Seating in the theater will be modular so it can be removed or readjusted depending on the event. For example, for a movie night, Hatfield envisions a mix of bistro tables, couches and other comfortable, inviting seating options. 

"We really want this to be the community's living room," he says.

The Greater Springfield Partnership's President and CEO Mike McDorman says this revitalization of The State Theater is an example of how Downtown Springfield is being reimagined in ways many people never thought possible. 

"Over the next 10 years we're going to see incredible things happen here because of groups like these who are willing to put skin in the game and make it happen," he says. "We all play a role in making our community better, and when you look at these kinds of investments, it's important that our community put time into them and support them."

McDorman says Downtown Springfield continuing to grow its mix of places to shop, eat and find entertainment will support the future development of additional residential space in Downtown also. 

"Everyone talks about Springfield's heyday as a memory, and we see the best days of Sprignfield ahead, the best days on the horizon," he says. "We believe The State Theater is one of the next steps in reimagining our Downtown."

Hatfield agreed, adding that The State can be a connecting piece of the Downton puzzle between Mother Stewart's Brewing Company and COhatch

"It's the crown jewel of the Downtown core, so everyone knows how important it is for this to succeed and be a community space," he says. 

When gems like The State sit lifeless long enough, they can become nearly invisible and almost fill in as part of the background to passersby. But, Hatfield says that both the ownership group - ASG - and The State's operations group - State Theater Productions - are determined to change that. 

"I feel like the people involved have different skill sets and different resources, and we all feel called to contribute to the renaissance of Downtown Springfield," Hatfield says. "You walk in, and The State Theater is this time capsule right in the Downtown core, and a lot of people don't even know it's there.

"For those of us who have memories from the theater, it will be great to rekindle them, but for others, it's just going to be a brand new revolution."

For more information about The State Theater visit www.springfieldstatetheater.com.

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.