Capitol Theatre in Flint approved for $500k MSHDA grant; owners still seeking $9.5M to complete project

FLINT, MI – Downtown Flint’s Capitol Theatre has preliminary approval for a $500,000 community development grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority for the rehabilitation and restoration of the 2,000-seat theater and 25,000 square feet of office and retail space.

The $500,000 grant represents one-twentieth of the $10 million needed to complete the building’s rehab, and its disbursement is contingent upon the owner’s ability to secure the additional $9.5 million needed to complete the project.

Uptown Reinvestment Corporation applied for the grant on behalf of the Farah family – the owners of the building – and will serve as a partner in the rehab project, said Troy Farah, the building’s manager.

“The grant is just one funding source of several that we’re pursuing, so it’s just a piece of the larger puzzle. As far as Uptown’s involvement, we’re still fleshing out the partnership aspect, but it would be similar to other Uptown projects, where we utilize the for-profit, nonprofit partnership,” Farah said.

Farah said that the project is still very early in development and that he is “several months away” from pulling all of the financing pieces together. He said that he’ll seek other funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, federal historic tax credits, New Market tax credits and other private sources.

“This could take a year (to secure financing), just to put it all into perspective. We’re working on it diligently daily. The project is ultimately a several million dollar project that would fully restore the Capitol Theatre and restore it as a state-of-the-art entertainment venue for Southeastern Michigan. The rehab is a 12- to 18-month project, but until we finalize the construction, it’s hard to predict how long of a process it will be,” Farah added.

Peter Hughes, a sustainable development specialist for MSHDA, said that there is a timetable on when Farah would need to secure financing in order to have the $500,000 released from the state.

“Some of the timetable is still being discussed, but they have 120 days to prove that they have secured the other ($9.5 million in) financing. Presumably, that’s going to be in some hard letter of intent. If they can demonstrate cause why they don’t have it after 120 days, we can give them one 60-day extension,” Hughes said.

“So they need to have everything in place in six months and the project has to be completed within two years of the award, so that means that by May of 2015 the project has to be completed.”

In addition to securing the rest of the funding, the MSHDA will also check to make sure that plans and specs are clear and concise, and that the building has a clear title, which “shouldn’t be a problem” for the Farahs to prove, Hughes said.

Hughes said that Capitol Theatre was chosen to receive the grant based on an impartial, 10-category grading system. The application was among the highest-scoring and was subsequently named an award winner.

“There’s only been one other round of these particular grants, and from that, there was maybe $50,000 that wasn’t spent because they didn’t secure proper financing, and so it was taken back,” Hughes said. “Time is of the essence. The idea is that we want these projects moving and rolling.”

Tim Herman, president of Uptown Reinvestment Corporation and CEO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, said that this is a major step in the rehabbing of Capitol, but acknowledged that there is still a lot of ground to cover with the project.

“We (Uptown Reinvestment Corporation) are pleased to hear that the Capitol Theatre has received funding to support rehabilitation efforts. There (is) still a ways to go on the funding, but this is an important first step,” Herman said.

“URC is very interested in the project, but at this time we do not have a formal agreement with the Farah family. We’re still figuring out what URC’s role will be. I know that we will play some part in it because the Capitol Theatre has a vital role in our downtown Flint revitalization plans as well as those for the greater Flint community and the Genesee County region.”

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling was in agreement with Herman.

Walling said that he would take whatever steps he could to help move its rehabilitation along because the theater is such an important piece of Flint’s development.

“The Capitol Theatre is the missing link in downtown’s revitalization. A renovated and reopened Capitol Theatre will transform downtown (into) a year-around destination for arts and culture, which will complement the new housing and restaurants,” Walling said.

“The city of Flint fully supports the Capitol Theatre and will continue to be a partner in seeking state, federal and foundation funding and tax credits. The city also has the option of freezing the tax assessment so that the new investments don’t burden the theater, especially if it will operate as a nonprofit.”

Farah is optimistic about this first step, but said that having perspective is important.

“If we were ready to start construction I’d tell you, but that’s not the case. We’re not there yet, but we realize it’s a critical downtown project and we’re working on it,” he said.

The Capitol Theatre was chosen as one of nine statewide projects that were approved for grants. The MSHDA awarded $3.7 million to the various projects. More than 65 grant applications were submitted asking for a total of more than $30 million.

Capitol Theatre was open in February during Flint’s inaugural Fire & Ice Festival, turning its lobby into a bar and giving tours to the public.

Original article by Jeremy Allen for MLive.
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