The Appalachian Theatre opens its doors after 8 years

Marlen Cardenas, Reporter

After eight years and with the help of 500 volunteers and $10 million of donations and fundraising, the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country opened its doors again on Oct. 14 with a performance by the band The String Wizards.

“Keep in mind that the theater had been completely gutted,” Keith Martin, Appalachian Theatre of the High Country vice chairman, said. “All the architectural flourishes and things like that had been removed. It was in foreclosure.”

A developer from Florida, who was the previous theater owner, went bankrupt trying to reopen the theatre. The “Save The Appalachian Theatre” task force convinced the Downtown Boone Development Association to purchase it, Martin said. 

The task force bought it back from the DBDA after forming The Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, a nonprofit. 

“We did feasibility studies, then we incorporated and formed a board of trustees, then we interviewed architects. We interviewed and hired a fundraising consulting firm to help us with what we could raise, and we almost doubled what they said we could raise,” Martin said. 

Susan McCracken, director of Career Development & Economic Engagement, was a voting member on the ATHC board of directors. 

“All projects have their complications, but renovating a historic theater in the middle of a business district is particularly challenging,” McCracken said. 

Six years ago, McCracken was on King Street and saw the theater door was open. She walked in and met John Cooper, chair of the board of trustees, and asked if she could help re-open the theater. 

“In Boone, Blowing Rock and on campus at Appalachian, we have lost or removed many of our historic structures that remind us of the past,” Martin said. “It is important to me to reuse and safeguard what we can, and make those buildings functional for modern uses.”

The Appalachian Theatre first opened in 1938, and was the first arts theater built in the High Country. 

The theater has 620 seats, a spacious lobby and community room. 

Martin said he has already received inquiries from clubs and event planners interested in using the venue. 

McCracken wants the theater used as a gathering and learning space for the community.

“(The community can) be exposed to new ideas, whether that is a film, a lecture, a play, opera or a concert. A place that will be here for the 50th reunion of the Appalachian Class of 2020 and will be a part of their college memories — a place that contributes to the economic vitality of downtown,” McCracken said. “At its heart, the Appalachian Theatre is Boone’s theater.”

Bill Pleto, former dean of the Hayes School of Music, helped provided musical input, such as giving feedback on how the construction would best serve  performing music groups.

At its heart, the Appalachian Theatre is Boone’s theater.

— Susan McCracken

“I am a believer in a thriving downtown,” Pleto said. “This will provide tremendous opportunities and expand Boone.”

Pleto said because Boone is located between Nashville and Raleigh, the theater is in a good place for touring companies, and could bring more people to the High Country.

The Appalachian Theatre is estimated to contribute $3 million to the local economy and create more than 50 full-time jobs. 

Martin said he also wants to focus on the benefits that are intangible, such as adding to the nightlife and enhancing the quality of life for Boone residents and visitors. 

“We are expecting to host more than 200 activities this season, and 60 of them will be destination draws for cultural tourism that will attract patrons from a radius of several states,” Martin said.