Many McAlester-area residents of a certain age have lots of memories of the OKLA Theatre in downtown McAlester — and they may have a chance to make some new ones in the future.
The Ardeneum of Oklahoma Charitable and Educational Foundation, Inc. owns the OKLA through its Ardeneum Heritage Association, and is offering the OKLA to the city of McAlester for only $1, with certain conditions.
Those conditions include requiring the city to complete renovations to the OKLA, which has been closed as a movie theater since 1989. The city would also be required to preserve the OKLA’s historical significance and to use the theater for the community’s benefit.
If the city of McAlester fails to complete any of those tasks within a five-year window, ownership of the OKLA would then revert to the Ardeneum of Oklahoma Charitable and Educational Foundation, Inc., based on terms of the proposed agreement.
McAlester Tourism Director Billy Sumner plans to present details of the Ardeneum’s offer to the McAlester City Council during the council’s regular meeting set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 9, in the council Chambers at City Hall. Since the agenda calls for discussion, but no action, any vote regarding the OKLA Theatre proposal would be set on a future council meeting agenda.
Sumner and city of McAlester Tourism Coordinator Eddie Gray are both enthusiastic about the possibility of the city becoming owner of the OKLA and what could be offered at a refurbished and renovated OKLA Theatre.
Renovations are already under way through the Ardeneum, with the reconstructed outdoor ticket booth already in place. A former novelty shop next door to the OKLA is also being renovated, and new American with Disabilities Acts-compliant restrooms are going inside.
More upgrades would be needed if the city acquires the OKLA — including installation of a sound system and new seating. Proponents think it will be well-worth the effort.
“Our hope is it will bring something to the downtown,” Sumner said.
Those things include a downtown area to hold live plays and musical performance events. Sumner and Gray would also like to see the OKLA showing movies again — including classic movies that were shown on the OKLA screen during their original releases.
A renovated area could also serve as a downtown meeting area, they said.
While the OKLA closed as a movie theater in 1989 after 58 years of showing movies in McAlester, the Kiamichi Actors Studio, also known as KAST, later utilized it for several more years for live productions, including plays and Christmas variety shows, as well as for Halloween haunted houses.
The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality awarded the Ardeneum a grant in 2013 to be used for the removal of all asbestos and lead-based paint from the building, with that project completed in 2015. Original seats were removed from the building during that time period, with the seating yet to be replaced.
The Ardeneum’s Board of Directors voted June 27 to approve to the terms of transferring ownership of the OKLA Theatre to the city of McAlester. Board members also voted to authorize Ardeneum Board President Dr. Bert Thomas and the board’s secretary, Rodney Briggs, to execute documents on behalf of the Ardeneum regarding the OKLA.
Attending the meeting along with Thomas and Briggs were board members Ed Harrington, former McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison, and Francine Bray. Janis Alford also came by to agree and sign the resolution, according to the meeting minutes.
Sumner and Gray say they are hoping the OKLA Theatre will once again become a showcase for downtown McAlester.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com