ERWIN, TENN. (WJHL)- Marquee lights are once again flashing at the Capitol Theatre. A new owner has taken over the historic building, and is determined to transform it into a premier live music venue.
When Robert Fury, a native of Spokane, Washington, first moved to Unicoi County last year, the Capitol Theatre was the first thing he noticed in Erwin.
“I didn’t, wasn’t going to buy a theatre when I came here. I had no idea this was going to happen,” he said.
But Fury was quickly enamored with the venue first built in the 1920s. It housed the Capitol Cinema I & II until 2019 when it closed following weather damage to the roof.
Fury said he signed the papers last Friday, making the building his. He will work to restore the theatre with project partners and community support.
“I’m going to be the general contractor, and I’m going to figure out creative solutions so that we can get this back with people in the seats, having fun,” he said.
His vision is a live music venue that draws Nashville-quality acts. He hopes hundreds of people will be able to eventually gather and enjoy shows.
In time he’d like to also feature stage dramas and movies again. But he says live music is the most profitable business model to pursue first.
“It needs a lot of money. And it needs a lot of time, a lot of hard work,” said Fury.
He estimates repairing the theatre will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He hopes to raise money through partnerships, donors, and fundraisers.
The theatre roof is currently secured by scaffolding, and repairing it will be the first task.
“You know, this was built in the 20s, so this was built before engineered lumber,” Fury said.
Countless other updates are needed, including electrical work, installing a sprinkler system, and making the building ADA compliant. Town of Erwin officials say they support the endeavor and will work with Fury as needed on facade improvements, building codes, and regulations.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a quick turnaround for him. There’s some extensive renovation work that’s going to have to be done. But I know that anything that is worth something, it’s worth waiting for. We’re just going to be with him every step of the way,” said Jamie Rice, communications specialist for the Town of Erwin.
Rice said citizens were heartbroken when the Capitol Cinema closed in 2019.
“So to see the marquee lights back on the last couple of days, people have just been thrilled and ecstatic. They call Town Hall and want to know what’s going on,” she said.
While alcohol would be served at the venue, Fury still wants the theatre to complement Erwin’s family-friendly atmosphere. He credited the town’s kind people as the reason he chose to move to Unicoi County.
Fury seeks community input for the project and plans to call a town meeting about it soon. He asked community members to follow the theatre’s Facebook page for updates.
The timeline for the theatre repair is difficult to predict, but Fury’s goal is to have a safe event space where people can listen to music by next year’s Unicoi County Apple Festival.
The new theatre owner acknowledges the project is a gamble but believes it’s the perfect time to take it on.
“People have been ready for live music, live drama, movies, social gatherings where they can rub shoulders, and say hi, and meet new people and new friends. They are ready for this, absolutely,” said Fury.