The coming year is shaping as another significant milestone in the revitalization of the historic Port Theatre.

The coming year is shaping as another significant milestone in the revitalization of the historic Port Theatre.

With performance options expanding, both in number and breadth of genre, a community fundraising campaign picking up steam and a good position for state historic grant funding, 2018 could be a showcase for the theater.

Next week will bring a Holiday Celebration, part celebration of the season and part fundraiser to expand the theater’s offerings and rehabilitation, with a concert and dinner.

“This is going to be annual event, a very, very nice event,” said Natalie Shoaf, a board member of the Port Theatre Art and Culture Center, a local non-profit which purchased the theater several years ago with an eye toward returning the facility to its days as a cultural center of downtown.

“This will be a wonderful event. We are hoping those individuals who understand what the Theatre will do to help this community will come out and support this event.”

In January, the “Thursdays at the Theatre” series resumes, with a full calendar of performers under contract through at least May.

“We are expanding the reach of the musical talent for Thursday events,” Shoaf said, noting that some of the performances will not occur on Thursdays as the PTACC must work with performers’ schedules.

“The reception from the community was overwhelming, with several of the concerts (last year) exceeding the 340 capacity in attendance.”

The potential for the Theatre was long suggested, but came into focus several years ago during a program called Competitive Florida.

That program brought a team of state officials to Port St. Joe, assessing the assets for economic development and growing economic competitiveness.

Near the top of that list identified by state officials was the Port Theatre.

“That theater can be a real diamond to anchor downtown,” said Bill Killingsworth of the Department of Economic Opportunity.

The theater, which opened in 1938, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 following application and efforts by former owners Wade and Paula Clark, who operated an auction house from the theater for several years in the mid-2000s.

Other than that period, the theater has largely remained closed and in disrepair since the 1960s.

It has survived two hurricanes.

In 2003, a letter from the Florida Department of State detailed, in part, “To qualify for listing in the National Register, a property must not only be shown to have a documented area of historic significance, it must also retain physical integrity.

“The theatre, although subjected to damage from two hurricanes, had retained its historic character. The entry, lobby, auditorium, reconstructed balcony, projection room, manager’s apartment, and circulation patterns characteristic of a public theatre remain intact.”

The U.S. Department of Interior, in its assessment of the theater, highlighted that, “The Art Deco Style treatment of the façade is largely intact and still maintains a distinct and significant presence on the main commercial fare of Port St. Joe.”

Further, the acoustics “within the three-story auditorium space is exceptional.”

“That is a unique situation there,” said Alan Roudy, a singer/songwriter who has performed at several Blast on the Bay Songwriters Festivals, including a performance at the Port Theatre.

The PTACC was formed in 2011 and gained ownership of the Theatre in 2015, aided by a state historic preservation grant.

The organization sought to revitalize the theater in a way that “honors the legacy the theatre, a multi-use facility that will serve the community in a multitude of ways and appeals to all age groups, a cultural hub for the community…”

The goal was to revitalize the facility through a grassroots community effort, aided by grant funds as well as dollars raised during a community campaign.

That grassroots effort began with two days devoted to volunteers from the community cleaning the theater.

Part of that community campaign will be the establishment of citizens committees to help in planning, design, programming and historic preservation as revitalization moves ahead.

Remembrances, oral histories, old photos and relics of the theater of the theater will be sought and welcomed by the PTACC.

The Port Theatre project is ranked in the top 10 in the most recent rankings by a state historic preservation board, appearing to be in line for $500,000 from the Florida Legislature in the early months of 2018 to continue renovation of the facility.

“The PTACC board looks forward to working with the community to make the dream of a complete renovation of the Theatre a reality,” Shoaf said.