Bringing The Liberty back to life

By Observer editorial July 22, 2011 08:17 pm
Only two years ago few people in the community had any idea what the Liberty Theater was. The former theater was hidden in the bowels of what appeared to be just another run-down building on Adams Avenue that happened to house, on a small portion of its ground floor, Domino’s Pizza for many years. Nobody really gave the building much thought. But then along came longtime La Grande attorney Dale Mammen, who knew that the building was home to what once was La Grande’s grand theater, The Liberty. He arranged with building owner Howard Butts to take a tour of the building. Visions of renovation began dancing in Mammen’s head. He got others involved, scheduled and conducted tours of the run-down ruins, and began sharing his vision with the community. The concept caught fire and the Liberty Theater committee became a part of the La Grande Main Street project.

Fast-forward to today and see that the dream is well on its way to becoming reality. Recently the La Grande Urban Renewal Agency agreed to provide a $75,000 loan to be applied to the purchase of the building, which has been appraised at $162,000. Additional loan funding of up to $75,000 may be requested later. If certain performance criteria are met, the loan could be converted into a grant.

The action clears the way for the Liberty Theater group to move ahead with additional fundraising, grant applications and eventually design and actual renovation. The renovation project has been estimated at about $1.5 million. Mammen and his group are aware that various grant opportunities are available for historic renovations, which the Liberty would certainly qualify for.

Mammen is to be commended for sparking the vision and for the countless hours he has put into researching the Liberty and what similar renovation projects entail. A host of other citizen volunteers have had a hand in it too, including Mammen’s wife Ginny, Doyle Slater, and Doug and Carol Campbell, to name a few. La Grande Main Street has played a critical role, as has Charlie Mitchell, the city’s community and economic development director.

The impact a performing arts and event center would have on downtown would be tremendous. La Grande’s downtown needs and deserves a renovated Liberty. Thanks for the vision and hard work, Dale.