Kingsport native Mark Hunt, owner of the Body Shop on Wilcox Drive, purchased the iconic theater last November from John and Angela Vachon. Hunt said buying the property is something he has thought about doing for quite some time.
“It’s always been a dream and passion I’ve had since my late teens, early 20s. I’ve had a passion for music since I was 14 or 15 years old,” Hunt said. “I’ve traveled it, chased it and visited all of the different venues I knew of, and I’m trying to take what I can get and put it into this place to see if we can’t make something happen.”
The State Theater opened in the 1930s, showing first- and second-run movies up until the 1990s. After closing, the building was home to a cheerleading academy for a while until eventually closing again. Restaurant entrepreneur Doug Beatty purchased the theater in 2005 and attempted to return the building to its original condition, but the recession took its toll a few years later, and Citizens Bank of East Tennessee in Rogersville foreclosed on the property.
LampLight Theatre of Fall Branch and a group of downtown business owners made offers on the building, though the deals were never finalized. Eventually, the Vachons purchased the theater in the summer of 2014.
Since then, nothing visible has happened with the building until the “Sold” sign was put in one of the marquees a couple of months ago.
“Once that ‘sold’ sign went on it, people thought I had bought Kingsport,” Hunt said of the response he’s received since purchasing the theater.
MUCH NEEDED RENOVATIONS
It’s been known for years that the State Theater needs a new roof before any type of event or entertainment could be held within its walls. Hunt said the condition of the roof is “borderline” and that it is going to be replaced and done right.
Hunt admits it’s going to be a big expense, but he is talking to folks and getting quotes on exactly how much a new roof is going to cost. He’d like to get that work started as soon as the weather breaks.
Upgrades to the plumbing were previously done, as were improvements to the electrical work, which are about 95% complete, Hunt said. The entrance doors and ticket booth will need some renovations, and though the interior of the theater is empty, physically it’s not in bad shape, he said.
“I’d like to see something happen by the spring of 2021, and that depends on getting a new roof on. As long as I don’t find anything else it needs,” Hunt said.
And what does Hunt mean by seeing “something happen?” His vision is for the theater to be a venue for live musical performances. Kingsport is roughly halfway between Knoxville and Asheville and would be a good stopping off point for artists traveling through our area, Hunt said.
“We’re going to get some live music to start with, but I’m open for just about anything. If schools want to use it for proms or sports banquets or meetings, I’m open for anything,” Hunt said.