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Detroit Theater Organ Society – October 2019 Update

The NeighborHUB grant to address the unwelcoming vacant lot and the blighted gap in between the Senate Theater doors and vertical Senate neon blade expanded the possibilities for the Detroit Theater Organ Society (DTOS).

When the project began, everyone knew that additional revenue would be required to install a functioning marquee. The question then became, how much could DTOS raise, and how much would the ideal sign cost?

Following a successful fundraising campaign that ended in 2018, DTOS needed to secure three comparable estimates, assess the vendors’ capacity for this specialized project, and determine what additional funds from building maintenance reserves it could add. These tasks required thorough consideration and significant time.

Ultimately, DTOS secured several estimates and bids, increased the budget for the marquee project, and signed a contract in July. DTOS then secured city permits and began construction of the sign structure and electronic letter boards.

The hope is that the installation of this sign will indicate to the surrounding neighborhood that the Senate Theater is open and ready to be used by the community.

DTOS faced a few unique challenges with this project. One challenge came about while securing bids from companies in the booming construction economy. DTOS persevered by taking the proper steps to thoughtfully and responsibly select a contractor.

The beautification of the vacant Senate Coney Island lot created another challenge due to the compacted dirt and remaining foundation materials in the former commercial site. DTOS sought advice from Detroit Future City and found other resources to remove the barrier. However, most of the available information geared towards small residential plots, not large commercial lots filled with clay and rocks.

It became clear that a creative alternative to grass or green groundcover would be necessary to transform the space, so the direction changed. A decorative fence, bright red mulch, and community-driven murals achieved the desired result: a space that looks welcoming and is usable. Conversations are proceeding with community partners on how DTOS can successfully activate the improved lot now that it is usable

DTOS is most proud of how this project has facilitated community engagement. From the free, family-friendly film series and the Senate Coney Yard installation, to the fundraising campaign itself, the NeighborHUB grant has connected new individuals, audiences, and organizations with the Senate Theater.

The initiation of a free, family-friendly film series was a critical component of the project. More than 100 community members filled out surveys online and in person to help determine what kinds of movies and activities kids and families want to see at the Senate Theater.

The survey results informed a film selection heavy on animated features, culminating in the final and most successful screening in September, “Alice in Wonderland”. It attracted approximately 50 individuals of all ages from the community.

The completion of the marquee, expected in late 2019 or early 2020, will capitalize on the momentum generated by this project and propel the Senate Theater, home of the Detroit Theater Organ Society, into a sustainable, community-driven future.