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Fort Lupton’s Star Theatre finds a ‘dedicated’ new owner

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Jeremy Johnson

 

FORT LUPTON — A Colorado transplant is hoping to have a “star” in the making after, early last month, the Pennsylvania native began sealing a deal that’s been decades in the waiting.

 

Paul Ludwig was still living in York, Pa., when the historic Star Theatre on Fort Lupton’s Denver Avenue shut down in 1992. It wasn’t until nearly 10 years later that Ludwig would come to call Fort Lupton home.

The 76-year-old said he’s since fallen for Fort Lupton, and now he wants to give back to the community he’s come to embrace. That started, Ludwig said, with taking action on the much-maligned theater-turned-downtown-eyesore.

“(I see the Star Theatre) as a challenge, sort of a personal challenge,” Ludwig said during a tour of the inside of the theater May 22. “I like to work with people, I like to organize things, and I saw a real need to get it going.”

As an engineer and technician specializing in alternative fuels for PureVision Technology in Fort Lupton, the ambitious Ludwig knows a thing or two about making something out of nothing — after all, his job is to take plant matter and turn it into ethanol and biofuels.

And the senior go-getter also knows things don’t necessarily lose worth just because they’ve got a few years on them.

“After all, I’m 76 and still going strong,” he said. 

So Ludwig is looking to close on the empty theater at what he said is a “fair” price of about $65,000. 

“That’s pretty cheap for a big building like this,” he said.

While walking through the dilapidated insides of the theater — which is estimated by many to have been built around the beginning of World War I — Ludwig said it may cost twice that much to restore the theater to its former glory while also getting it up to code.

For starters, Ludwig said the theater will have to be renovated to accommodate accessibility requirements — the current ramps leading to the seating area are too steep, he pointed out. Ludwig said he’ll likely have to also install a new sprinkler system, and said that alone could set him back more than $40,000.

“All of that will have to be done,” he said.

Furthermore, Fort Lupton Planning Director Todd Hodges said Ludwig will have to submit, at the very least, a site plan for staff review and will have to obtain the proper building permits to begin work such as electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling. Depending on what Ludwig’s vision for the theater entails, a public meeting may also be required.

However, Hodges said Ludwig’s interest in the theater is the most serious inquiry so far, and he’s excited for Ludwig’s vision.

“I think he’s the first really serious person to look at the theater and invest money out of pocket,” Hodges said. “I think he’s dedicated to the project, and we’re excited about that.”

 

A vision in lights

For now, Ludwig said he has the finances to “keep this thing going,” and said he plans to start out by restoring the theater’s ticket office and marquee — the latter of which has become a popular pigeon roost. Once the pigeons are evicted, however, Ludwig said his top priority is to restore the trademark star on the marquee. Both of those projects are considered “cleanup” and do not require a building code, according to Hodges.

As work advances, Ludwig said he might try to solicit donations from the public and other fundraising sources. 

“We’d like to get the ticket office and some other things fixed up before we start soliciting for donations,” Ludwig said. “I have enough that I can keep it going for quite awhile, but if we’re going to turn it into a full-fledged theater, then I’m going to need some help.”

Hodges said Ludwig will need to seek nonprofit status in order to solicit donations for the project. The planning director added that the Fort Lupton Historic Preservation Board has long wanted to get a historical designation for the Star, which Hodges pointed out could provide positive tax implications for Ludwig, as well as make the project eligible for historic grant monies.

As the project moves forward, Ludwig said he is also considering seeking the help of the community’s unemployed workers to get the theater off the ground. If things go well, Ludwig said the local help could later become full-time employees of the theater.

“We can try to get them jobs if they do a good job for us,” he said.

Ludwig said he also plans to hold a kind of audition to determine the marquee’s new look. He said he would like to hold a contest for submissions from the local community and area schools on how the front of the theater should appear. The winner, he said, would be voted on by the community and would receive a cash reward and, of course, the satisfaction of seeing their vision in lights.

As for his vision, Ludwig wants the final project to be not just a theater but rather a digital café, as well as a community and events center, where locals can come to catch an old movie on the big, drop-down screen or share photos with friends on big screen monitors and comfy couches, while local businesses can hold conferences, meetings and seminars. 

On the weekends, Ludwig said the theater could offer “bigger events” and live entertainment geared toward all ages.

“Right now, we’re considering anything that will draw people in,” he said.

 

Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Johnson
at 303-659-2522, ext. 217, or
jjohnson@metrowestnewspapers.com.