FOREST CITY - A Forest City downtown tradition of watching a movie may be gone soon, if no buyer for the Forest Theatre steps forward.
Owners Gary Compston and his wife, Cathy, have decided to retire and close the business on Nov. 30. The Compstons have operated the theater downtown since 1973.
The Compstons have been trying to sell the business for three years, but as of this week, there is no buyer, Realtor Pat Lovik of Missal Realty said. The business is listed for $167,000.
Lovik said there been a number of inquiries about buying the theater but none have come to fruition.
The theater is an important amenity for the town, Forest City Economic Development Director Beth Bilyeu said.
Bilyeu said maintaining the theater is on the list of projects for Forest City Economic Development in the coming weeks, but said it couldn't make any guarantees for progress before the theater is to close next week.
Some area communities have formed non-profit committees to adopt and renovate movie theaters in their towns, which is still a possibility for Forest City, Compston said.
"I think if you get a group of individuals to step up and work together, you could make a go of it," he said.
Neighboring communities such as Belmond, Northwood and Lake Mills formed non-profits to restore and operate theaters in their town, while Clarion and Garner are currently in the process of re-opening their shuttered movie houses.
Bilyeu said an exploratory committee is researching the feasibility of a non-profit owning the theater, but "it would be best if a private person bought it."
Scott Helgeson, chairman of the board of Lake Mills Entertainment Inc., said improving the quality of life in Lake Mills motivated the re-opening of the Mills Theatre in 2008.
"No one wanted to see it closed," Helgeson said. "It was quite an undertaking."
The non-profit group performed major fundraising to renovate the building, which had leaks, a collapsed roof and back wall and an overwhelming odor, Helgeson said. The project raised almost $500,000 including about $100,000 by contacting alumni of Lake Mills to "Help Save the Mills", Helgeson said.
The Forest Theatre does not have any imminent structural renovations, Compston said.
"It's a turn-key operation," he said. "Anyone can run it."
An upgrade to digital projection would be needed in the coming years, at a cost of about $80,000. Movies are now copied digitally for presentation in theaters. Film-grade movies that need projectors are increasingly becoming more difficult to find, Compston said.
Marilyn Hoffman, the Lake Mills Chamber Development Director, said Forest City residents should embrace the opportunity, as it is a much smaller project than the one completed in Lake Mills.
"We had to totally rebuild. Forest City has to step up because they don't have to rebuild their theater," Hoffman said.
Helgeson urged Forest City to perform a similar project in their town, as a theater is "a vital part of the community."
The city of Clarion is in the final stages of its theater restoration, and hopes to open in mid-December.
The non-profit Clarion Theater Group Inc. needs $110,000 more to reach its $250,000 goal, said the theater group's current president Steve Burkheimer.
"(The $110,000) is very, very attainable," Burkheimer said.
The group purchased the theater for $80,000 and recently spent $85,000 upgrading to digital, Burkheimer said.
Theaters help the community overall by providing traffic to restaurants and shopping, Burkheimer said.
"They're a hub of activity for a lot of things," he said.
FCED's Bilyeu said the theater is as asset to Forest City.
"I think it would be a great benefit to the community if we were able to find a way to make it feasible to stay open," Bilyeu said. "Gary has done a wonderful job in running the theater these many years they have been there."
The Clarion project is a good example of a community preserving the theater, Compston said.
"The people wanted the theater so bad, they raised the money to buy it, " Compston said.
Closing the Forest City theater may work to the community's advantage, Burkheimer said.
"The best thing that could happen is having the theater close down for a month," Burkheimer said. "They'll (the community will) be excited to hear someone is opening it up."
Caitlin Hamilton is a reporter for the Forest City Summit, which, like the Globe Gazette, is a Lee Enterprises newspaper.