Dark for more than three years, the historic Milton Theatre is set to once again light up downtown Milton.
Owners Glenn and Lisa Howard have leased the space to Premier Center for the Arts, which has been operating for more than a decade in Middletown. Staff is working toward opening the theater in May with a free children's workshop.
“It couldn't be better news for the town as a whole, especially in the effort to breathe new life into our downtown district,” said Mayor Marion Jones. “And a special thanks to the Premier Center for the Arts from Middletown for seeing a true potential here in Milton and for their willingness to join our business community.”
Fred Munzert, chief operating officer of PCA, said he and his staff are excited to extend their company into southern Delaware.
“It was kind of a love at first sight situation,” he said. “Everything felt good from the get-go.”
PCA is a very active organization, with 500 students in its theater, music and dance classes. Many students participate in the more than 250 performances each season. Performances vary from beginner level to full Broadway shows for more advanced students. Adult classes are also offered.
Munzert said the plan is to incorporate all of these programs in Milton. For now, though, they will start small with children's workshops, increase offerings this summer and then have a full offering of educational programs in the fall.
“We're really excited to be coming,” he said. “It's really been a natural path we took to get to this point. It made sense on all sides. We're really chomping at the bit to get those doors open.”
Lisa Sumstine, executive director for the Milton Chamber of Commerce, helped forge the connection. Her daughter is a regular at PCA's Saturday morning classes in Middletown and talked to Munzert about the opportunity for expansion in Milton.
With PCA on the way, she said, she is excited for what it could mean for the town. She knows from personal experience how a vibrant theater can enhance a business community. While her daughter is in class, Sumstine spends several hours shopping, eating and walking around town.
“As people begin to come [to Milton], hopefully more stakeholders and entrepreneurs will see that we have folks waiting to be served here and jump in,” she said.
Milton's downtown district has been stagnant since the theater closed in 2011. Many in Milton say the theater is key to a revival. Sumstine said she hopes this is the beginning of bigger things.
“It's a very big deal for us,” she said. “I sort of use the theater as an 'if you build it, they will come' kind of thing.”
She said an operational theater connected to a strong organization, such as PCA, will enhance Milton's relationship with the arts and, she hopes, turn Milton into a destination.
“Hopefully it brings people to town – maybe people who have never been here before, and they can discover what a great place this is,” she said.
The theater was previously owned by the Milton Development Corporation, but it was taken over by Delaware Community Investment Corporation when the owners could no longer meet loan obligations.
The group ran into financial trouble when it purchased a neighboring home and surrounding land in 2005. The transaction was part of a plan to solve flooding problems at the theater, but the $660,000 price tag proved to be too much to handle. The owners were unable to resell the home resulting in $6,000 monthly payments. The property eventually fell into foreclosure and was purchased by DCIC.
The empty building was up for sale until the Howards bought it in March 2013.
PCA is looking for volunteers to help put the finishing touches on the theater building to meet its opening-day goal.
For more information about the Milton Theatre and to volunteer, contact Fred Munzert at firstname.lastname@example.org, 302-378-1384, or Sumstine at the Milton Chamber of Commerce, email@example.com, 302-684-1101.