What started as a single stage at the historic Market House Theatre in downtown Paducah is growing to ten historic locations, in an attempt to create a campus for arts education and building preservation.
Executive Director Michael Cochran announced Thursday a $5 million dollar plan to rehabilitate about 44,000 square feet of historic space that spans nearly two city blocks. Cochran says the theatre has quietly worked the last two years to raise $2.3 million on its own for the project, via board member donations and community theatre supporters. With nearly half the funds raised, Cochran said it’s time to bring “The Next Stage Campaign” public.
“Today is opening for the Adams family which is our wrap up of our 53rd season and the biggest show that we do during the year. And we know that the fifty fourth season we want to spend on trying to lay all the foundation to raise the money to do this to set this for the future.” Cochran said.
The theatre currently has two classrooms, said Cochran and the project will add four classrooms and two more rehearsal spaces. He said with the theatre serving 49,000 students in the region they were “busting at the seams” for space.
The theater’s history in historic building preservation goes back to its roots, said Cochran.
“In 1963 the City of Paducah was going to tear down the market house building and put a parking lot at it. And the Civic Beautification Board went and found a group of people and asked them if they would start a theater. And that's what helped save the market house and the other building.” Said Cochran.
Now, almost 54 years later, he said the theater has 10 historic buildings for program expansion and historic preservation.
“The buildings that were empty or underused or even some of them were condemned that we've gone in to do historic preservation restoration.” Cochran said.
Every decade the theater doubles in size, and it's been “20 years since our last expansion.” Cochran said.
Cochran stood on the corner of Kentucky Avenue and 2nd street and pointed towards the end of a row buildings adjacent to the Market House Theatre.
“There are three buildings, the Finkel’s building which is 200 Kentucky Avenue... [the others, side by side until they reached the 1857 Hotel] empty for many many years.” Cochran said.
Three blocks down, you will find the Arcade Theater building, also acquired by the MHT.
“That building will become our new scene shop construction space and it is also our warehouse space.” Cochran said.
Finkel’s building, a gift from Meredith and Bill Shroeder, allowed the MHT to begin transforming its current campus into the “comprehensive performing arts campus” MHT envisions with “The Next Stage Campaign.”
“I am very pleased that we were able to donate this building to further develop opportunities for children to receive high quality arts education in Paducah,” Meredith Schroeder said.
Honorary Campaign Co-chairs Jeane and Jo Frampton said the campaign is off to a strong beginning, and is a “creative and visionary endeavor that will enable Market House Theatre to expand...arts and education programming” to the entire region.
Mortgages can really come back and get you, said Cochran. If there is one thing he has learned through the development process, he said it’s “you don't start things until you've got the money to do it.”
The MHT Board of Directors committed to $350,000 in donations first. “Then we went to our trustee group, which we're past presidents and longtime supporters of the theater. And that got us to 1.2 million.” said Cochran.
The rest was donated by long time community supporters, said Cochran.
“You can't just build something and then people will come,” said Cochran. In order to stay “in the black” Cochran said that throughout the expansion project “as we acquired buildings [...] we immediately exploded into those buildings with programming.”
He said, even though the building weren’t “in the best shape” they wanted to continue to be able to serve the increasing number of people interested in their productions. “So that when we opened the doors were going full tilt.”
Cochran expects the local people to be the primary supporting for the remaining $2.7 million needed for project completion. But MHT will also be applying for smaller grants “for facade work for Historic Preservation.”
And “ I'm not worried,” he said. “I've seen Paducah, it is an incredible region.”
Fundraising for the project is expected to reach completion in the next 12 to 18 months. In the meantime, Cochran says stay tuned for more announcements related to the project coming in the next couple weeks.