A half year after The State Theatre was closed and replaced by a new Eau Claire performing arts center, the historic structure has been sold and plans call for it to house a children’s foundation and host events again.
Azara Properties of Elk Mound bought the iconic downtown Eau Claire building at 316 Eau Claire St. on Jan. 31, spending $195,000 on the structure, according to Eau Claire County property records.
Joe Luginbill said the building will house the Luginbill Children’s Foundation he founded in December 2016 as a nonprofit he said consists of 13 programs that support youth and families. Plans call for the foundation to partner with other nonprofits and organizations on a variety of programming for children and families, he said, noting the initiative is in its preliminary stages and details remain to be worked out. Other agencies could be housed at the State as well, he said.
“We will have a variety of education, entertainment and youth development programming that will be offered throughout the building,” Luginbill said.
Plans for specific programming that would be housed at the State continue to evolve, Luginbill said. Several agencies have contacted him about possible partnerships with the foundation, he said.
“I am feeling very optimistic that we can make this work,” he said. “I think a lot of people want to be involved with being part of something that will help save this theater.”
Azara Properties is registered to Mohammad Hashlamoun of Elk Mound. He owns properties and businesses in this region, including Azara, a Water Street hookah and vape shop. He also owns the former My Place Bar, 406-408 Galloway St., which he plans to reopen as a coffee shop and bar called My Office Lounge.
The State Theatre opened in 1926 as a vaudeville house and in ensuing decades hosted events of all sorts, serving as a key Chippewa Valley performance venue. At one point it was a movie theater and was then reborn as a home of music, theater and other performances.
The building was not designed to host large-scale, modern productions and is in need of repairs such as a new roof and furnace. Those limitations and the region’s booming arts scene prompted the construction of the Pablo Center at the Confluence, which opened in September.
Luginbill reminisced about past performances he was part of at the distinctive State Theatre, where he performed in Eau Claire Children’s Theatre productions and attended many shows there with his family.
He said he is excited the building will have another chapter instead of being demolished as some have feared.
“I have so many fond memories of being at the State,” Luginbill said. “That place has been a big part of life for many people in Eau Claire.”
Luginbill said plans call for events to once again be staged at the State. A deed restriction that would have prevented such shows at the theater so as not to compete with the Pablo Center were discussed but were not a part of the sale, said Pam Rasmussen, president Eau Claire Regional Arts Center Board that owned the State.
The thought that if such a restriction would have hindered its sale, Rasmussen said.
“The performances that would take place (at the State) would seem to be complimentary to the Pablo and not direct competition,” Rasmussen said.
Jason Jon Anderson, Pablo Center executive director, agreed and said he is happy to have another partner in the continued redevelopment of downtown Eau Claire.
“We look forward to working symbiotically in the future,” Anderson said when asked about the new State Theatre plans.
Before those can happen, Rasmussen said, the theater will need remodeling. “That building is going to need some love first,” she said.
Luginbill said an assessment of the structure’s construction needs is ongoing. A building remodel will seek to maintain as much of the existing structure as possible, he said, while providing needed updates.
“We want to preserve the historic nature of the building as much as we can,” he said.
Rasmussen said she is happy the State Theatre will be preserved and it will be used to provide services to kids and families.
“It feels like this will be a good use of that building,” she said.