A story of reuse and reimagining for a downtown urban core

Fully abandoned by its entry into the 21st century, the Wayne Theatre was built in the 1920s as a vaudeville stage located in the heart of downtown Waynesboro, Virginia. From its hey day of traveling acts, to a span of decades as a bustling movie theater, to its abandonment in the late 1990s, the building has ridden the waves of downtown renewal and decline. Today, it stands as one of the most visible bellwethers of revitalization for the City’s core — and one of the most difficult as the community has struggled from within to rebuild its local economy.

wayne theatre outsideI first began working with the Wayne Theatre Alliance, a 501(c)3 non-profit, in 2006 when I arrived in Waynesboro as the City’s Economic Development Director. In the intervening years, fluctuations in the economic climate brought both fundraising success and hardship, and changes in the local community contributed to many diverse visions for how and if the reimagined theatre could serve as an anchor for revitalizing the City’s downtown, a space which simultaneously faces an often high vacancy rate and sits nestled among the opportunities of some of the state’s best urban fishing and the gateway of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. While the City has tried to balance the reality of a declining industrial economy with a vision for a more local and vibrant economy, the Wayne Theatre Alliance has raised and spent multiple millions on architectural plans, demolition, and reconstruction of the building’s bones. While planning and fundraising continued, in a nearby storefront on Friday nights the Alliance provided a taste of the type of live entertainment that could, with the revitalization of the original building, once again grace the City’s downtown.

Having left the City of Waynesboro in 2008, I rejoined the Alliance as an independent consultant in 2012 to help facilitate the final funding of their construction budget through use of federal and state Historic Tax Credits, New Market Tax Credits, private bridge lending, and ultimately local and state incentives through programs like the Virginia Enterprise Zones. These programs require many voices and partners, and it has been a multi-year process of planning and partnership building.

In early 2015, the Wayne Theatre Alliance announced its successful funding of the building’s renovation. The final stages of construction continued apace throughout 2015, and the Wayne Theatre Alliance announced its Grand ReOpening in the spring of 2016.  Today, it stands as a more than $10million project that, all told, took more than 15 years from the founding of the local Cultural Commission to its opening night. The theatre now holds over 380 seats and is becoming the new downtown home for the local orchestra, community theater, touring musicians, and educational programming.

Interior of the theatre during its Sneak Peak Reception, Opening Week. Photo by Courtney Cranor.

Interior of the theatre during its Sneak Peak Reception, Opening Week. Photo by Courtney Cranor.