Community steps up to save historic theater

By Matt Porter

November 8, 2013 Updated Nov 8, 2013 at 7:50 PM EDT

Owego, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The Tioga Theater has weathered the Great Depression, two world wars, and more recently, the 2011 flood.

But when Hollywood mandated all theaters move to digital projectors by the end of 2013, the threat of the 105-year-old theater's final curtain seemed all but certain.

Co-owner Terry Coleman has managed the movie house for 30 years with partners, and said the theater spent all it's extra cash rebuilding after the flood.

"There was a necessity for coming up with someway to finance the digital conversion, we didn't simply have the means to," Coleman said.

Coleman said the theater's history includes hosting everything from vaudeville shows to future presidents.

William Howard Taft gave a speech at the theater the day before he was elected.

"It's an icon of times gone past when things were glorious," Coleman said.

In September, a few community members approached Coleman with an idea.

The group created an online fundraiser through the website Kickstarter.

"It had been used elsewhere, and we simply looked at it as a good avenue," Coleman said.

With one day remaining, the group raised $43,764 from 458 donors surpassing the $42,000 goal.

Owego Deputy Mayor Phoebe Morris helped start the fundraiser and is glad to see so much local support.

"Watching these names come in, on the email, is how many of them I recognize," Morris said, "How many of them are friends and neighbors, and old high school classmates.."

Morris is working on creating a "Friends of the Tioga Theater" non-profit with other supporters.

"I think the Kickstarter is just the beginning," she said.

The group would like to replace carpets destroyed by the 2011 flood next.

Co-owner Terry Coleman said he never imagined so many would volunteer their support.

"It's been building momentum and they've been telling their friends, it's just been wonderful," he said.

The Tioga Theater is holding special screenings for its donors tonight and tomorrow as a thank you for keeping Hollywood hits in Tioga County.