Local News

Sebring downtown’s Circle Theatre gets ready to open

SEBRING - On June 2, 1923, a local plumbing contractor and real-estate developer unveiled downtown Sebring’s Circle Theatre, which had small shops in the front, a movie theater in the back and professional offices on the second floor. More than 600 people crammed the building on opening day. “It was the coolest place in town,” said Kevin Roberts, CEO of the non-profit Champion for Children Foundation of Highlands County. Since then, this historic location has housed several businesses, including a string of night clubs, and has had its share of highs and lows.
This June 2, exactly 90 years later, a local pastor will have a benediction dedication for the building, which returns to the community after extensive historic renovation. The children’s foundation, which bought the building in April 2011, will have a grand-opening on June 27 where community leaders and project benefactors will see the transformation through old and new pictures, Roberts said. The foundation hopes to use the building to help support children’s arts programs after school or in the summer and provide a “spark plug” to revive the historic downtown, said the foundation’s vice chairwoman Pat Leidel. To pay its day-to-day expenses, the foundation will rent the building for receptions, weddings, family reunions, concerts and performances, said Brenda Heston, who was recently hired to manage Circle Theatre and is also the director of special projects for the foundation. The almost 8,500-square-foot building has an expanded stage area with balcony seating; an outdoor courtyard that was enclosed to make a children’s activities area; a caterer’s kitchen; up to five office spaces for rent on the second floor and a 1950s style sweet shop that will have six flavors of ice-cream, among other goodies, Roberts said. The building had been in foreclosure for five years when the foundation bought it. “It was a historic landmark that did not need to go to waste,” Roberts said. Renovation plans had started small, Leidel remembered, and then snowballed as ideas poured in and people came forward to help with monetary and in-kind donations. It was community-wide effort that has made the theater renovation and opening possible, she said. Since then, there has been electrical, plumbing and air conditioning work completed, as well as part of the drywall and the sound room. Stairs were built to the balcony, which was previously accessible only from the outside. Along with these major renovations was painstaking cosmetic work to bring back the original elements of the building. The clay tile walls, for instance, had gaps in places. Since clay tiles are not made any more, the holes had to be filled and the look reconstructed. So was the case with the floors on the second-story. The original floors had been buried under several layers of adds-ons. Instead of just carpeting them, they got a contractor to sand down and buff the floors to their pristine condition, Roberts said. Heston said she is still working out the details on the children’s programs. The plan is to offer art, music and dance classes and charge kids on a sliding scale. Foster kids or children who are receiving services through the Children’s Advocacy Center would be able to come for free, Roberts said. There will also be seminars held on child welfare issues at the theater, he added. People have also shown interest in making bookings, Heston said. There is a chamber mixer planned for July and an open house to unveil the building to the public. Sponsorship opportunities will also be announced, they said, from naming, say the stage, in somebody’s honor to a mural of a “tree of champions” where sponsors would be able to get names etched on the leaves. After all these months of work, Roberts is excited the big day has arrived. “It’s like going to be a rebirth of sorts,” he said of the building. “For a venue for 300 people or less, this would be the most elegant facility.” The Circle Theatre is on 202 N. Circle Drive in Sebring. To contact Heston for information, call 381-0417 or email brendaheston@hotmail.com