CUYAHOGA FALLS — A building that once housed the Falls Theater is expected to become the site of a family entertainment center with bowling lanes, an arcade and a restaurant in the early part of next year.
Tim Frankish, Kim Green, Melissa Barnes and Chris Carpenter will be the four owners of The Workz. Frankish said they are aiming to open for business at the downtown Front Street site in January or February 2020.
"We think this will be a great addition to all those businesses down there to really make that whole area come to life again," said Frankish.
Frankish, Green and Barnes live in Cuyahoga Falls, while Carpenter resides in Solon. It’s a family endeavor: Green, Barnes and Carpenter are siblings, and Frankish is married to the trio’s sister, Becky.
Frankish said the four of them are in their third year of working on this concept.
"We’ve traveled across the country to different conventions and different facilities," said Frankish. "We’ve been traveling, really researching, seeing what’s out there, what works, what doesn’t work."
He said his team hired a consultant to perform a feasibility study for the area, assist the group with a business plan and secure financing. At one point, they had considered moving into a site in Stow. Frankish said the Falls Theater site was suggested to him by Mayor Don Walters during a Chamber of Commerce meeting a little more than a year ago.
When his contingent checked out the building, Frankish said they thought "this is pretty rough, very unique," and added, "We kind of fell in love with it … it’s beautiful inside." Frankish noted the theater is an "awkward space," but said once he and his co-owners figured out how to use the site, "everything kind of fit and worked together."
He added the space carries several positive attributes: tall ceilings, lighting, a stage, a marquee, as well as its proximity to a parking garage and its location in the downtown area.
A look at the layout
There will be two storefronts on opposite sides of the main theater entrance on Front Street. One will open into a private dining room that can be converted into a party room. The other side will access a social room, where people will be able to enjoy a drink and play cards or other games such as table suffleboard or darts.
In the large, high-ceiling theater, there will be two levels: an arcade and a recessed dining area by the stage. The arcade will have new and retro video games, duckpin bowling, a bar and a four-person virtual reality game area. For the virtual reality games, participants don vests, goggles and headsets to play a game such as "Angry Birds." In duckpin bowling, the bowling ball is smaller and the pins are shorter, said Frankish, who added the lanes will be shortened due to space limitations.
The stage will be maintained for events such as live performances and trivia nights.
The facility will have two other levels: a balcony and a basement.
The theater’s former projection room will be expanded and re-opened as a balcony and used as a private party area.
This spot, Frankish said, "will actually overlook the entire theater floor. You’ll be able to oversee the bowling, the arcade, all the way to the stage. It will all be opened up because we’ve got such high ceilings in that room."
The basement area will be converted into a speakeasy that will offer a "unique spin on cocktails," and small plates of food, according to Frankish.
Frankish also said outdoor seating is planned.
What’s next for the project
Frankish said the asbestos abatement of the building was finished several weeks ago, and the architect and general contractor are putting together a timeline for the project. A building permit still needs to be obtained from the county.
The structure needs new plumbing, electrical and HVAC components, he noted.
"The building’s been locked up since the early ’90s," said Frankish."Nobody’s done anything with it."
He expects work to begin at the site in two to three weeks.
"We’re looking forward to joining the downtown area," said Frankish. "We’re excited about all the new businesses that are opening up and the downtown partnership between all the businesses. It’s a long road, but we’re excited about where it’s going."
History of Falls Theater
Community Development Director Diana Colavecchio said the Falls Theater was built in 1925 in a Mediterranean Revival style.
She said the building "invokes deep-rooted nostalgia for generations of people who visited over the 50 years of its operation.
"I am thrilled to see the space being transformed into something that will attract new generations through the doors of our city’s most iconic and historic building," she added. "The existing plan offers year-round fun for people of all ages and demographics to experience and enjoy, which is what we continue to strive to do in our downtown."
The Falls Theater was a first-run movie theater until 1978. At that point, Loew’s donated the theater to the city, which leased the building to theater operators for eight years; the theater has "been mostly vacant since 1986," according to information provided by the city.
The original marquee was removed, but the steel framework remains in place.
The theater is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, according to city spokesperson Kelli Crawford-Smith.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.