Glenn and Lisa Howard have attended plays, movies and concerts at the Milton Theatre over the past several years. Their daughter has attended theater camp there. Living just a block or two away on Union Street, they now want to be more directly involved in the historic theater's future.
Lisa confirmed this week that she and Glenn have signed a contract to buy the theater. “We've entered into a contract, but the deal is not complete. No dollars have changed hands. But we sure do hope it goes through. It's a dream and a good idea but we don't own it yet.”
Lisa said the couple plans to keep the theater as a theater. “The first thing we want to do is set up a board of directors to help us with the various aspects of running a theater. We live here. We're raising our family here. We want Milton to thrive. Hopefully we can find members for the board who can bring a good sense of the business side of theater and help us with the theatrical side of things. Of course Glenn brings construction knowledge.”
Glenn Howard is an electrical contractor and Lisa is a teacher of English as a second language at Del Tech's Terry Campus in Dover.
She said she and her husband definitely want the building to house a community theater.
“We're excited about it becoming a community theater and we're excited about becoming involved with people who want it to be a community theater," she said. "We went to just about everything that was put on at the theater and really enjoyed that it was part of the community. We always wished there could be more, with regularity. And, since we're a young family, we always wished the theater would do more for families. It's been mostly artsy and adult. We would like it to do all that plus do more for the whole family. A big part of what we're doing will be figuring out how to get the shows and the acts here and get the people to come. Of course there's the old adage: build it and they will come. We hope we get that kind of support.”
Lisa said her husband sent her a text message on Friday, Feb. 22 asking her what she thought about getting involved in buying the theater. A few more texts later and Glenn had set the gears in motion. Lisa said she thinks settlement on the property is scheduled for the end of April. She declined comment on how much the couple offered Delaware Community Investment Corporation for the theater.
The theater was previously owned by the Milton Development Corporation but was taken over by the investment corporation when Milton Development could no longer meet its loan obligations.
In order to solve a flooding problem at the theater, MDC purchased a neighboring historic home – now Union Street Salon – and surrounding land in 2005 for about $660,000 from the family of former Mayor Don Post. The purchase enabled MDC to build a navy wall, and also provided space for additional parking. The original objective was to subdivide the house from the full parcel, resell it and regain most of the investment.
But the group was unable to sell the home and was stuck with $6,000 per month payments, which eventually led to foreclosure.
Maryellen Davis, MDC's acting president, was in the midst of a fundraising campaign to buy back the theater when news of the sale was announced. In early February, DCIC announced its plans to sell the theater at auction in April. Davis' initial concerns were that the buyer would raze the building.
"We were disappointed because we thought we were working with DCIC," she said. "My heart is so into this. All the board members are so devoted. We've been working on this since the theater closed almost two and a half years."
But the news that the Howards hope to use the building as a theater was relieving.
"It is so good for the economy to have it open and have people in there,” she said. “It's great for people to have a place to go. We need fun movies, plays, concerts and stuff like that all year long. I'm really excited about it.”
Howard said she was shocked that their contract on the theater has become such a big story.
“We thought we were just buying a building," she said. "Now I have phone messages from reporters on our answering machine and Monday night I had a reporter from the News Journal knocking on my front door. The contract actually made the pages of USA Today. I guess it's not a bad thing that the biggest thing happening in Delaware that day was sale of the Milton Theatre. At least it's good news. And we're very appreciative that people are so interested.”
The theater is not the first commercial property for the Howards in downtown Milton. They also own the building across Union Street that houses Antiques in Milton and a number of apartments overhead. They purchased that property in August of 2011. They have plans to renovate that building. “But that will take a while. And Glenn says the theater needs a little cleaning up but said it can be used in the mean time without major renovations. There are some things we want to do to improve it but that will all have to wait until we actually settle on the property.”
Lisa said she moved to Milton in 1997 and bought a house. Then she married Glenn and brought the Lewes native to Milton with her. “I love Milton. It's not a vacation community – it's a neat little town. I've always had high hopes for it and still do.”
Reporter Nick Roth contributed to this report.