Theater Block renovation gets grant support

January 26, 2022
Leaders pose with check for theater block renovations

The decades-long effort to revitalize a cultural landmark in downtown Fitchburg took a significant step forward Tuesday, Jan. 25 when the Fitchburg State University Theater Block on Main Street was presented a grant for $3 million by the local legislative delegation.

“The theater is a priority project for the university,” said Fitchburg State President Richard S. Lapidus, who noted the theater will support the cultural economy in the city. “We want to be downtown, we want to help the city grow and thrive. It’s a fantastic city and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The funds were presented during a brief program Tuesday by state Sen. John Cronin and state Rep. Michael Kushmerek, where U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan and Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale also spoke to the collaborations and investments that are making significant impact on the community.

“This is really a down payment to revitalize the Theater Block and make sure that its best days are ahead of it,” said Sen. Cronin, who also saluted President Lapidus for keeping the university “outward-looking” and mindful of the shared destinies of the campus and the city.

The theater block is located directly across Main Street from the renovated City Hall, with both sites considered anchors in the effort to revitalize the city’s downtown corridor.

Rep. Trahan said federal support for the city, including dollars earmarked for the city’s revitalization efforts, will continue. She also credited the university for its vision to invest in the heart of the city with a cultural center. “This is in addition to the already completed Fitchburg State game studio, as well as the ideaLab which serves as an important resource for our local entrepreneurs.”

Rep. Trahan touted the projected economic impact of the theater project, including the creation of 33 permanent jobs, 120 construction jobs, and millions more in annual revenues once the project is complete.

“This is precisely the type of economic development and economic revitalization that Congress had in mind when we passed (the American Rescue Plan) last year,” said Trahan. “And I’m pleased to report that this is far from the last investment that Fitchburg will receive.”

Rep. Trahan also credited the partnership between the university and community. “It’s such an asset when you have a college campus in the heart of the city, one that’s willing to expand into the downtown,” she said.

Mayor DiNatale also credited the public and private collaborative investment between federal, state and local entities in helping the city’s revitalization plans come to fruition. “We must continue to invest in our downtown and in the partnership that will make our vision a reality,” he said. “At its core, the partnership starts with the city and Fitchburg State University, and the two buildings that sit across the street from one another.”

Rep. Kushmerek said the theater block’s renovation marks a key point in the city’s evolution. “It’s been decades of fits and starts,” he said. “This is the point of no return. Everywhere you look, there is growth. Because of Fitchburg State University, and their vision, and their commitment to this city, this will be the symbol of the next gilded age of Fitchburg.”

According to an analysis performed for the university, for every dollar invested in the project, there will be a significant annual multiplier once the renovation is completed. 

In December, the theater project received $475,000 from MassDevelopment’s Underutilized Properties Program, with those funds going toward the reactivation of storefront spaces adjacent to the theater itself.

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