Malheur County couple aim for state grant to renovate the historic Rex Theater

A Vale couple, including the city’s mayor, plans to make major upgrades – with help from the state – to the Rex Theater. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – The owners of the Rex Theater are seeking a state grant to restore the 107-year-old facility.

The husband and wife team of Mike McLaughlin and Sandijean Fuson recently applied for a $90,000 grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $113,991, according to the grant application. The April grant application shows Fuson and McLaughlin will provide a $23,000 match for the grant. They didn’t return calls or email messages seeking comment.

“The revitalization of this building so it may be used year around will have significant impact in lengthening this economic stimulus to the downtown core, year around,” the application said.

The grant will be used for a host of upgrades, including the purchase and installation of a HVAC – or heating, ventilation and air conditioning – system.

According to the grant application the funds will help with an extensive restoration effort. That effort will include major repairs to the building, restoration of the marquee and an upgraded heating and air conditioning system.

According to the application, the biggest cost at $22,992 is removing a coal furnace and replacing it with modern heating and cooling.

 “It was heated by a coal furnace; it is outdated, and pollutes so the theater has not been used as a source for years,” said the application.

Roof repairs – estimated at $22,500 – are the second biggest cost of the project.

Fixing the marquee is estimated at $17,624. The application says the marquee is “one of the town’s most noticeable features” and once was used for many town event announcements.

“Although the building has been maintained, the paint is worn, the marquee shows wear and tear and neon is missing,” it said.

Restoration of the theater is key for the future of downtown, Fuson wrote in the application.

Fuson and McLaughlin bought the building in 1989 and have since restored the floors and replaced seats and curtains. They also own and are trying to restore the historic Drexel Hotel.

According to the application, the theater was opened in 1914 with 400 seats and a balcony. Since then it was owned by a series of families until Fuson and McLaughlin took it over.

The theater showed first-run movies until about 2008 when digital projectors became standard. The cost of converting to digital proved to be “cost prohibitive.”

The theater continued to function as a place for community events but is open only part of the year.

The grant, the application said, would open the building all year and be “a huge attribute to our community.”

A state committee will meet May 27 to consider grant applications and make recommendations to the Oregon Heritage Commission for final decisions June 8.

Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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