Ritz Theatre seeing new life
The Historic Ritz Theatre at the Schaefer Center has come a long way in four years … and its journey has just begun.
Since the city of Toccoa assumed ownership in March 2014, the facility has undergone extensive renovation that has included a complete remodeling of the lobby, an enlarging of the stage, construction of an orchestra pit, as well as a fresh coat of paint, installation of new carpet and an enhancement of the heating and air conditioning units.
The purchase of a screen and a projector, plus an upgrade to the sound system, has allowed the Ritz Theatre to further enhance patrons' enjoyment of the venue.
The piece de resistance, though, was the installation of a lighted marquee which was unveiled in August 2016. The marquee, made possible with a grant from the Fox Theatre Institute, has come to be regarded as a watershed event in the rehabilitation of the Ritz Theatre.
Keith Kozicki, general manager of the theatre, believes a new organization, The Friends of the Ritz, will continue the momentum of the past few years.
The group held its initial meeting in late April. It attracted 23 persons. They plan to meet again in June.
"We have the core of an organization," Kozicki said, adding the next meeting will focus on the formulation of a board and the establishment of bylaws, as well as crafting a vision statement that jibes with that of the city fathers — all with the purpose of building a 501(c)(3) group.
"I don't know of any small theater that doesn't have one," said Kozicki.
The group will likely oversee programming and take a major role in fundraising.
"It also will likely entail a community survey to ascertain whether there are any programming gaps," Kozicki said.
As an aside, Kozicki said that legendary country music performer Larry Gatlin, who appeared at The Ritz Theatre earlier this year, has agreed to be the honorary chairman of the group.
The next big thing for the Ritz Theatre is renovating the balcony, which will be funded through a $50,000 Rural Business Development grant from the United State Department of Agriculture and an equal match from the City of Toccoa. Those funds will be used to install carpet, rehabilitate the seating area and install a railing.
Christian Hamilton, Toccoa Main Street manager, said there are also plans to modernize the basement Green Room and the two dressing rooms as well as making improvements to the plaza in front of the building.
Hamilton said the grant gives city forces until June 2019 to complete the repairs, but he added the city is looking to have everything completed by the end of the year.
The repairs, however, won't interfere with summer programming.
“One of the terms of the contract is that the work has to be done according to our (programming) schedule," Hamilton said.
The Historic Ritz Theatre in the Schaefer Center is the place to be this summer for movie goers. During June and July, Main Street Toccoa staff members and a few hardy volunteers man the ticket booth, popcorn and dole out soft drinks to patrons twice each Thursday (10 a.m. and 7 p.m.).
The price for a ticket and concession fare is still $1 apiece, the same price as when the Ritz Theatre began showing movies again in 2013.
This year's movie menu strikes a balance between adult fare and children's offerings, plus a movie or two such as "The Greatest Showman" and "Spider-Man: Homecoming" that touches both bases.
The movie menu is as follows:
• Thursday, June 7 — "The Greatest Showman"
• Thursday, June 14 — "Paddington 2"
• Thursday, June 21 — "Wonder"
• Thursday, June 28 — "Spider-Man: Homecoming"
• Thursday, July 5 — "Darkest Hour"
• Thursday, July 12 —"Captain Underpants"
• Thursday, July 19 — "Ferdinand"
• Thursday, July 26 — "The Lion King"
In August, an encore movie, "Black Panther," will be offered to area movie-lovers.
Another summer highlight will arrive on June 15 when popular country music artist, David Church, and his wife, Terri Lisa, perform at the Ritz Theatre.
Kozicki said there may be a surprise attraction or two this summer as the Ritz Theatre continues to grow its reputation as a cultural center in Northeast Georgia.
"The Ritz offers acts that people in a smaller community typically wouldn't see (in their backyard)," Kozicki said. "After all, we didn't see (Larry Gatlin) coming."