Raising the curtain on The Cary

aspecht@newsobserver.comFebruary 18, 2014 

  • By the numbers

    15,825 combined size of the theater and three-story addition next door, in square feet

    180 number of seats in the viewing area

    25 number of parking spots the town created between Johnson Jewelers and The Cary

    20 by 13 size of the theater’s projection screen, in feet

    4 number of beers available to patrons (three craft beers and one domestic)

— It’s time to raise the curtain on The Cary, a theater that recalls the town’s past and pushes forward plans for a different kind of downtown Cary.

The renovated theater, which dates to the 1940s, will open Saturday after about a year of construction.

Cary leaders have hailed the venue at 122 E. Chatham St. as a crown jewel of the town’s efforts to revitalize downtown. The theater will show movies, plays and music performances.

The town has other downtown projects in the works. The Jones House cafe, a public-private venture on South Academy Street, is set to open this year. And there are plans for a downtown park that could eventually include private development.

Town leaders say it’s important to invest money downtown to avoid blight and possibly more crime.

“Think of the town like an apple and downtown as the core,” said Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. “If the core rots, the apple rots.”

So far, he said, The Cary has spurred interest from developers who are looking downtown.

“This is just the next step along the path toward making downtown vibrant,” said Cary Councilwoman Lori Bush.

The history

The building went up in 1946, serving as the town’s first indoor cinema.

In the aftermath of World War II, the venue served as a source of entertainment.

Over the years, the site served as home for several businesses, including a clothing store, a recording studio and an auto parts store.

Cary bought the building in 2011 and launched plans to resurrect the theater. The town also hired DeVere Construction to build a three-story addition in the vacant lot next door.

The marquee

Yes, it’s bright, and that’s just how town leaders envisioned it.

Cary might be known for its strict rules when it comes to business signs, preferring beige and dim to neon and bright. But Cary opted for a luminous marquee for the theater.

In August, workers put up 3,500 pounds of steel that became the marquee’s skeleton. At night, the sign boldly spells out “C-A-R-Y.”

The cost

The $6 million theater exceeded original budget projections.

Early estimates called for a $3 million project. Town leaders said in 2012 the higher-than-expected prices were likely a reflection of the market.

About $1.3 million came from the town’s downtown capital fund, which Cary set aside in 2011 for such projects. The rest came from the town’s general fund.

Last summer, the town added $150,000 to the theater’s budget to install an area to sell concessions.

After all, who wants to watch a movie without popcorn?

The grand opening

A “celluloid cutting” ceremony is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Saturday, followed by free movie screenings.

The theater will present “Waking Sleeping Beauty” at 10:30 a.m.; “Goodbye Solo” at 12:30 p.m.; and “Finding Nemo” at 3 p.m.

One Leg Up, a performance group from Asheville, will take the stage at 7:30 p.m.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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