On the frigid 15-degree evening of February 13, 2006,OCP’s cast of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast battled 30mph wind gusts as they headed to their cars after rehearsal, totally unaware that an hour later the building would be engulfed in a raging fire.
Thankfully, no one was in the theater when firefighters responded to reports of smoke around 10:30 p.m. The blaze began near the back of the building and slowly advanced toward the front as firefighters continuously doused the structure. Firefighters remained on the scene well into the night and early morning hours. By then, the stage and the seating area were mostly gutted, and the walls were badly sagging.
Fire investigators from the Michigan State Police, Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and other agencies began a joint investigation. It was reported that they “saw some suspicious things,” and it continues to be an open case today.
On February 28, the community and OCP members celebrated the life of the theater as they simultaneously mourned its loss. Many spoke of the fire as if they were experiencing the death of a longtime friend.
The Show Must Go On!
First there were tears of sorrow and sadness as we stood in the bitter coldness of that winter night, helplessly watching those flames destroy something so precious to the OCP family. Then, eyes moist with emotional pride, the cast and crew embraced each other and vowed to do what was necessary to deliver the promise of theatre that “The Show Must Go On.”The cast and crew, families, friends and neighbors re-created the destroyed set, props and costumes for Beauty…. Nearly 100 people reconstructed the set the Saturday before opening. Other community theaters offered costumes and props. Ten days after the fire, Beauty… opened triumphantly to a sold-out audience at the Owosso Middle School.
To Rebuild or To Not Rebuild?
In the basement of the Chamber of Commerce, the OCP Board of Trustees debated whether they should find a new place, such as the Armory or the Middle School; build a pole barn out of town; or rebuild the Lebowsky at a then-estimated cost of $4 million. In 2006-07, OCP’s entire budget was $170,000. The vote to rebuild was not unanimous, but when the proposal did pass, those who voted “no” accepted the Board’s decision and actively participated in the funding campaign, “Rebuild”
That summer, the Board and other interested parties met with architect Ed Francis of GunnLevine Architects. The final plan was presented to us on December 17, 2007. Insurance on the building had been used to clean up the site, including the removal of asbestos. Through the City of Owosso, OCP was awarded a Vibrant Cities Grant of $350,000 which was matched with OCP fundraising. These funds were used to enclose the building. Mayor Ben Frederick hosted “The Mayor’s Gala” in October 2010 in celebration of the new roof and walls.
Fundraising continued with leadership from the Development Committee. Contractor Guy Bazzani was instrumental in linking us with financial manager George Larimore. Together a financial plan was developed which included $1 million in cash and pledges; $1 million in grants, $4 million in tax credits (Brownfield, Historic, New Market), and a $1 million USDA loan.
Construction on the interior began in December 2012, and was completed in March 2014, just in time to for a Grand Opening with our production of the full-sized Shrek, the Musical, a daring opening in a new theater with all new equipment!
The historical aspects of the building are honored and respected in the theater. At the same time, features are incorporated into the design and building efforts to support a sustainable concept. The theater has been awarded a Silver LEED certification.
The recovery from the fire was truly completed with the 2015 restoration of the Marquee. The familiar moving lights of the marquee serve as a metaphor for OCP, as we continue to keep moving toward expanding our offerings in entertainment and education opportunities for our community and beyond.