The long-vacant A&G Theater in Old Town is about to make an encore as a movie theater and entertainment venue.
“Wow. Awesome news. Can’t wait,” was one of the comments posted in Facebook when the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce announced the reopening late Monday.
Jim and Catherine MacPhaille, New Orleans real estate developers who own other commercial properties in the Bay, purchased the theater on North Beach Boulevard and plan a $2.5 million to $3 million renovation.
“The theater, which has been vacant for over 40 years, is going to be restored to its former glory as a multi-purpose performance space for movies, theater, comedy, music, receptions, and live entertainment,” the chamber reported.
“We are excited to get this project moving, as the old A&G Theatre is an important historical icon and a local community asset that we need to get back in service.” Jim MacPhaille said. “So many people grew up in Bay St. Louis and remember going to the movies with their parents at this theater. We want to bring back the opportunity for a new generation of parents to share that experience and more with their children, and also attract local, regional and national performances to our town.”
Jim MacPhaille said he didn’t have any prior connection to the theater. When he and his wife purchased the Second Street Elementary School, their real estate agent Regan Kane of John McDonald Realty suggested they also look at the A&G Theater, which is next door to their 200 North Beach Restaurant and Bar.
He sees people coming to A&G for plays, movies, jazz music and shows by local musicians from New Orleans. Sunday through Tuesday, it might be used as a movie theater, he said. The rest of the week it could become a comedy club, a concert venue, a dinner theater with the adjacent restaurant or be rented out for weddings and other events.
To determine what renovations are needed and design the theater, the MacPhailles hired MetroStudio, a New Orleans architectural firm. Owners Robert Zwirn and Kenneth Gowland engineered the $5.5 million dollar conversion of the Joy Theater in New Orleans, the $26 million dollar conversion of the California Building in downtown New Orleans and the $7 million dollar conversion of St. Rose Di Lima Cathedral into the Bayou Treme Performing Arts Center.
“They want to be involved and renovate the theater,” he said. He doesn’t know when the theater will open, but while the architects works on the plans, the MacPhailles will be seeking tax credits and getting state approval to make the renovations to the historic building.
According to Cinema Treasures, the Spanish Colonial-style theater was listed as open in 1941 and closed sometime in the 1970s. It had a seating capacity of 600, and withstood hurricanes Camille and Katrina.
“It’s a shell,” MacPhaille said. It had a good roof, he said, but needs soundproofing, stage, waterproofing, restoration on bricks and other work.
“We want the marquee back on the building,” he said, and will go to Tulane University’s Southeastern Architectural Archive, where the original plans are located.
Small towns across the United States have museums and movie theaters, and he said the A&G “would really anchor the downtown.”
Bay St. Louis has plenty of restaurants and nightlife but needs attractions, said Mayor Mike Favre.
“It’s going to be a huge impact for the area, not just the Bay,” he said. “It’s going to be an attraction that people will come for.”
MacPhaille and his wife are buying a lot of real estate in town, MacPhaille said, and they eventually want to retire in Bay St. Louis. They also own Century Hall and are planning to open a PJs Coffee, which has brought some push-back from residents who don’t want a drive-thru window in the Old Town.
“We really see an opportunity,” he said of the development of Bay St. Louis. “We’re not trying to change the town. We’re trying to enhance it.”