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Group wants to transform Emerald Theatre

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published January 26, 2012

 A group of local business owners and residents is interested in taking over ownership of the Emerald Theatre and turning it into a more community-theater-style of venue. One thing, though — the establishment is not for sale.

A group of local business owners and residents is interested in taking over ownership of the Emerald Theatre and turning it into a more community-theater-style of venue. One thing, though — the establishment is not for sale.

Photo by Edward Osinski

MOUNT CLEMENS — There’s no denying the fact that the building that currently houses the Emerald Theatre in Mount Clemens is multifarious.

Since it was built in 1921, Macomb County’s biggest entertainment attraction on North Walnut Street has been a vaudeville venue, a movie theater, a night club and a concert hall.

Now, a group of Mount Clemens business owners and residents wants to transform the Emerald Theatre into something that the group says will create more foot traffic in the area and bring a lot more attention to what the city has to offer.

Stephen Saph Jr. of Nickel and Saph Insurance Agency in downtown Mount Clemens is leading the charge toward trying to turn the live music theater into a community theater.

He said the modest-sized grass-roots group is currently working to gauge public interest in a project that would change the face and name of the popular theater. They’re weighing the possibility through a website, Facebook and Twitter.

“After 45 days, we’ll assess and see how much interest there is,” said Saph. “We’re only trying to take the temperature of the community right now, see if there’s enough interest in the Clementine Theatre.”

The Clementine Theatre concept is based on the creation of a for-profit, public corporation to assume ownership and operation of the Emerald Theater. By the creation of a publicly-owned entity, interested members of the community would have a vested interest in the historic structure and a voice in the operation of the facility. Specifically, the type of programming and events held at the theater would be directed by the owners, made up of residents from the local community.

Saph said the group is looking to offer diversified entertainment options at the venue, including theatrical performances, film festivals, Brunch with Bach, Saturday morning children’s shows, comedy shows, indie artist festivals, and much more. The belief is that these efforts would solidify Mount Clemens as the entertainment capital of Macomb County.

“We’re looking to help keep the downtown vibrant,” said Saph, adding that neither the city nor the Downtown Development Authority is involved in the effort. “If Mount Clemens, which has 16,000 people, is going to continue to be the entertainment capital of Macomb County, we need to bring more people into the area. Not just specific groups.”

Saph said the consensus among the group is that the Emerald Theatre is underutilized.

“The shows they do put on are for a narrow group,” he said. “We want to drive activity into the town.”

The building that houses the Emerald Theatre was designed by renowned architect Howard Crane, who also designed Radio City Music Hall in New York and the Fox Theater in Detroit.

Local business owners are confident that the transformation of the venue from a nightclub to a community theater would result in the creation of a cultural hub that would bring more families and new visitors to downtown Mount Clemens, benefiting retailers, restaurants and bars.

“Mount Clemens is a unique community with wonderful restaurants and fun bars and unique retailers. This place is a jewel,” said Saph. “We want to drive in more interest, and we want to preserve the structure as it is.”

The idea for the project came to Saph after reading an article in the New York Times about a group of residents in Saranac Lake, NY. The group pooled their financial resources to create a community department store after a newly opened Walmart drove out their local small businesses. Shares of stock were sold for $100, and the group raised $500,000 to open the resident-owned store.

Potentially, the public could purchase shares of stock in the theater for most likely $100 a share, said Saph. A corporation would be formed and a board of directors would be established to oversee the entity.

Currently, the efforts of the group are to simply assess community interest, with the hope of at least 400 people willing to invest in shares to commence the project.

A representative for The Emerald Theatre verified that the business is not currently for sale.

For more detailed information about the Clementine Theatre project, call Stephen Saph Jr. at (586) 747-9315, go to www.Clementine or follow the group on Twitter or Facebook.