LANCASTER — The Grand Theater renovation, which began as a dream in 2000 for McKinley Dailey and others in Garrard County, will soon become a completed reality.
“We are down to months, not years. Pretty soon, it will be down to days,” Dailey said.
He’s optimistic the project could be completed before the end of the year but says, “Everyday it changes.”
To him, the clear advances in the renovation can be summed up pretty easily. “It’s awesome,” Dailey said.
The Grand Theater dates back to 1925, held 750 people and was used to show films and plays. Dailey estimates there once were more than 700 small theaters in Kentucky and only about 40 are still in operation.
About 2003, Dailey connected with Garrard County Judge-Executive John Wilson, who was still in private law practice at that time, and others who formed a non-profit corporation to raise the money for the project.
“That got the ball rolling; we started getting grants,” Dailey said. “Every time we got something positive, it pushed us on to the next level.”
Dailey estimates the total project will cost $3.5 million to $3.7 million by the time it is completed.
Wilson explains there were many people who have made the project possible. Early on, the corporation was able to get help from state Rep. Lonnie Napier, who was a “fierce” fighter for the theater in the state legislature, attempting to get as much money as possible sent to help revitalize The Grand.
However, Wilson stresses there are many more people who made the entire project possible and, “without any one of these people” it would not have happened. There were a few times it almost didn’t, but someone always came through to help out when needed, he explains.
Dailey first became interested in the property when visiting Sam Durham, who owned the property at the time. Durham had turned The Grand into housing and commercial rentals.
“I said ‘this would be cool if it were revitalized … what it would do for the community.’ He said, ‘yea, that’s probably right,’ and he saved it,” Dailey said, referring to some of the original furnishings that Durham removed and stored while he owned the property.
Dailey believes Durham realized the potential future for The Grand. Those furnishings have been restored and returned to their original home within the theater walls.
“He thought somebody like me would want to redo it one day. We reused everything,” Dailey said.
The renovations officially began in 2007, when the group received the first of the grant money. Some additions have been made to the existing building. A lobby was added, the orchestra pit was expanded, and the back wall of the theater will be expanded, provided for dressing rooms behind the stage.
“It was really a diamond in the rough,” Wilson said.
Dailey believes the revitalization is about more than just a theater. “I’ve got younger kids, so I always thought about having a place … smaller communities have to have a place for kids to go and do, that’s the main thing,” he said.
Dailey hopes the schools and community will be able to get involved in The Grand, because it is “a place of expression” and it will give kids something for their future.
He also has hopes for what the theater’s reopening will do for the city of Lancaster, believing it will be a premier site in Garrard County and a push to save the area surrounding The Grand.
“Small towns with bypasses tend to dry up. The theater will help maintain the vitality of downtown,” Dailey said. “It’s all about the community and making it a vibrant community again.”
Wilson echoes those sentiments, noting The Grand’s revitalization has been the beginning of beautification in the downtown.
Dailey believes the theater could draw visitors from around the area and, perhaps, beyond.
“It could be the best theater in Kentucky,” he said.
There is still much to be done. The next phase of the theater will begin Sept. 24, when crews will come in to install the fly system, which flies all of the curtains, and the projector screen, which will probably take about a month to complete. When that is finished, “it will be a whole different ballgame,” Dailey said.
However, Wilson believes the project already has accomplished much.
“This has cleaned up a blighted area of downtown,” Wilson said. “It’s something to be proud of.”
For Dailey, finishing the theater will be like a dream come true. “You’ve got to start somewhere. Realize there’s a potential for something and keep at it,” he said. “Everybody has to have their own dream.”