• 72°

Developer still interested in renovation of Ritz Theater

Consign and Design owner Sissy Blackwood spruces up her Christmas decorations as the refelection of the old Ritz Theater glows from across the street. Blackwood says she receives almost daily inquiries from tourists and visitors to her store about the future of the old movie house. Inset below is a 1940s photograph of the theater. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

Consign and Design owner Sissy Blackwood spruces up her Christmas decorations as the refelection of the old Ritz Theater glows from across the street. Blackwood says she receives almost daily inquiries from tourists and visitors to her store about the future of the old movie house. Inset below is a 1940s photograph of the theater. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

By Megan Ashley Fink

NATCHEZ  — More than a year after he last visited Natchez, theater developer Charlie Watzke said he is still interested in restoring the downtown Ritz Theater.

A developer who specializes in restoring historic movie theaters and drive-ins, Watzke said he expects his current project, the newly restored Beacon Theater in Waveland to open Dec. 11.

In Sept. 2014, Watzke had hoped he was just a few months away from opening the Gulf Coast cinema that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Months turned into more than a year after the project turned out bigger than he anticipated. Watzke had to gut the theater and remove its mold-infested insulation.

The completion of the Waveland project will allow him to come to Natchez to decide whether he can commit to the renovation of the Ritz.

Watzke, a New Orleans native, said he will visit Natchez in the next two or three weeks to make a decision.

“I’ve got some ideas and think it could be a unique place,” Watzke said. “It’s been over a year since I’ve been there to look at it. If everything’s still the same, I probably should be interested in it.”

Watzke said he has renovated many historic theaters throughout the South, including locations in Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The Ritz Theater was built in 1935, In 1940, it was sold to the Saenger Realty Corporation, which operated more than 320 theaters in the Southern states. Jerry Oberlin purchased the theater in 1950, and his family continued operating the theater until it closed in the mid-1960s.

The theater was used for storage until its roof collapsed in 2000.

David Paradise and Burt Baker bought the property and immediately donated it to the Historic Natchez Foundation (HNF) in 2002 when neighboring property owners began to complain about the building’s structure and the threat to their properties.

Miller said the foundation has invested more than $100,000 in stabilizing the structure.

HNF plans to give Watzke the building, rather than sell or lease the property, in hopes it will be restored and preserved as an operational theater.

“We made it clear we would give them the building,” HNF Executive Director Mimi Miller said. “We do not expect to be paid for it.”

“(HNF) wanted to try to preserve the building despite the fact that the roof structure had collapsed,” Miller said.

Miller said she reached out to Watzke after reading about his other theater restoration projects.

“The fact that someone might (reopen the building as) a theater appealed to us,” Miller said. “It’s our finest art deco building.”

 

News

Officials working to bring commercial flights to Natchez-Adams Airport

News

Five candidates remaining for next CPSB Superintendent

Business

Furdge appointed to Natchez Convention Promotion Commission

COVID-19

Photo gallery: Clinic gives COVID-19 vaccines to inmates with mobile unit

News

Kiwanis Club giving new life to forgotten bike trail

Business

Grant money available to restaurants, bars from American Rescue Plan Act

BREAKING NEWS

Severe thunderstorm warning issued for Adams County, school dismissal delayed

News

NOAA weather station off air amid onset of thunderstorms in Adams County

News

Natchez should brace for more storms Tuesday

COVID-19

Supervisors vote again not to extend Adams County mask ordinance

News

Natchez, Adams County spared storms Sunday

Business

Monday is 65 years for popular barbershop

News

Waitress says customers are like family

Business

Four Cathedral graduates make the 2021 Mississippi Business Journal’s Top 50 Under 40 list

COVID-19

COVID-19 outbreak at prison leads to uptick in Adams County cases

News

Clothing bank for veterans reopens at VFW

COVID-19

State reports 63 new Adams County COVID-19 cases in two days

News

School district awards $7.7 million bid for Natchez High School renovation

News

Head start center celebrates child abuse prevention

News

Vidalia teacher, coach Tim Herndon remembered as genuinely good

COVID-19

32 new COVID-19 cases reported in Adams County Wednesday as J&J vaccine makes comeback

News

City raises fines for littering to $500

News

Natchez Rock n Roll Taxi owner ‘Pulley Bone’ dies

News

CPSO investigates two shooting deaths on Lake St. John