Community helps relight marquee at historic theater

(Source: Christian Baxter)
(Source: Christian Baxter)

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – A familiar sight is once again shining bright over Main Street in Batesville.

The marquee at the old Landers Theater came back on this week for the first time in years, but relighting this historic sign required a lot of help from the community.

In 2008 the Fellowship Bible Church of Batesville bought the Landers Theater, which seemed beyond repair to many at that time.

"I think there were probably people, particularly in the community, that thought the church was crazy," said Kristi Price, the church's ministry coordinator. "It was a big project."

Price says the theater had fallen into complete disrepair after it closed its doors in 1998.

"The roof collapsed sometime in the early 2000s," Price said. "The back wall was gone. It just looked clear out into the street.

"It was a shell of a building more than anything," she added. "It was just a shell and an idea of what a building had been."

She says the church spent about two years and almost $1 million to completely remodel the space inside the theater. The extensive renovations left the church with little money to fix the marquee outside, so the church partnered with Main Street Batesville to create an initiative called Light the Landers.

"As always this community stepped up and I think they felt as we did that it was a landmark worth preserving and restoring," Price said.

The church received about $40,000 in donations to fix the sign, which cast its neon glow back onto the street for the first time this week.

"We just had this moment where we stood there, and we thought this is what it used to look like," Price recalls upon seeing the sign lit up again. "This is what Batesville used to look like back when Main Street was in its heyday."

Brent Swanson, the church's teaching pastor, says seeing the entire project completed should remind his church members about one thing.

"I think there's just the sense that here's a place that was broken and ruined beyond repair, and the church came in and we renovated it. We made it like new, and for us that's really a picture of the Gospel," Swanson said. "The Gospel takes all of us who are broken beyond repair, and God comes in and He renovates us. He restores us so that we can then glorify Him."

Swanson says the church hopes to further share the theater with the community. People can now use the space to host different events like weddings and funerals. Other events have been held there recently, too, including arts and craft shows and even screenings for the Ozark Foothills Film Festival.

To learn more about the Fellowship Bible Church of Batesville, click here.

You can also watch this video that chronicled the renovation as it progressed.

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