Rees Theater group seeks public help for urgent work

Kyle Davis, Rees Theater Committee member, speaks with fellow Rees Theater Committee member Dawn Smith (center) and Allie Shook, with Discover Plymouth, as Davis’ 5-year-old daughter, Harlow, grabs his hand following a presentation Thursday at Plymouth’s Wild Rose Moon for restoration efforts at the iconic Plymouth theater.
Staff Writer

The goal: $120,000. The deadline: In time for winter.
That’s how much money organizers behind the Rees Theater restoration project said during a Thursday presentation they hope to raise to address immediate issues at the downtown landmark before winter sets in.
The goal, they said, is to replace the iconic Plymouth structure’s roof and roof-access building, complete emergency masonry work on the building’s south wall and remove the theater’s quickly crumbling ceiling.
And despite the seemingly daunting amount, the committee behind the restoration is optimistic because they believe the sheer number of people who fondly remember the nearly 80-year-old movie house will be willing to make a small donation – and together that crowd could add up to the $120,000 goal before the deadline, said Kyle Davis, who set up the theater’s site for online donations.
“It’s a pretty large goal, but we feel like with the (public’s) generosity (it can be accomplished),” he said during part of the 1 ½-hour presentation – complete with video and PowerPoint – at Plymouth’s Wild Rose Moon, 115 N. Michigan St. “This spreads so much further than from just who’s here and who’s in Plymouth. This is worldwide. We’ve seen responses (via Facebook) from people that were here at one point but who (now) live far away and still have memories about the Rees.
“So we hope we can get this going viral," Davis continued. "If you think about it, the number of people who have been touched or have some memory about the Rees and the goal that we’re going for, it’s not a whole lot money per person. So if we can reach a lot of people, we think it’s reachable.”
And the deadline is just as vital as the money, organizers said. Before they can replace the building’s roof, they must repair masonry on the theater’s south side. Any work done on the roof beforehand could otherwise cause parts of the wall to collapse, according to Plymouth architect Brent Martin, a member of the group working to bring back the Rees.
Martin said roofing contractors told him the south wall is bulging, and construction on the roof could break the masonry free. However, before the roof can be replaced, he said, the small, roof-access building – what the committee calls the roof shanty – must be replaced.
Organizers were aware of some of these problems beforehand. They knew the roof and its access shanty would need replaced, but in June a new problem arose: They discovered a portion of the theater’s interior ceiling had collapsed, a possible sign of water leakage into the building. But, Martin said, replacing the ceiling is something that could possibly wait until winter. But the roof, the shanty and the masonry must be addressed.
“They need to be done fairly quickly,” Martin said. “Of course, the ceiling collapse, was, shall I say, a surprise. There’s part of me that says, ‘Nobody was hurt, and that’s a good thing.’
“And we’ve got a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done in the attic of this building by way of duct work, cabling and all of that, and that’s going to be easier with the ceiling gone,” he continued. “So there’s part of me that says, ‘That’s not the worst thing in the world.’ But it is an expense we’re going to have to address and we really don’t want people in there until we get that addressed.”
About 30 people attended the Rees Theater presentation. Along with seeking donations, organizers gave an overview of a preliminary business model they hope will lead to the theater’s long-range financial sustainability (see Saturday’s Pilot News).
Donations directly to the center will soon be tax deductible. Davis said the group’s official not-for-profit status should be approved by federal officials in about two months. Currently, donations to the group officially go through Wythougan Valley Preservation, the organization overseeing the theater’s restoration until the committee gets nonprofit status.
The group's fundraising efforts continue, however. Donna Pontius, Rees Committee’s co-chair, said the theater’s stadium seats will be sold in groups of four or five at Plymouth’s Farmers Market in September to raise funds. The number of seats for sale and the price hasn’t yet been set, she said.
Martin, the architect who drew many of the building’s illustrations depicting possible future efforts, said the first phase of restoring the building – which included masonry work on the west façade, fixing the marquee and the playbill cases at the theater’s entrance – is mostly complete. The organization received grants from the City of Plymouth and the Marshall County Community Foundation to help pay for the efforts, he said.
Now, Martin said, the organization is seeking a $300,000 matching grant through the Regional Cities Initiative, but they won’t get word on those funds until the early months of 2018. Late this year or early next year the group will start a major capital projects fundraising campaign, he said, to raise the matching funds.
But the immediate need before winter, Martin said, is fixing or replacing the problems that were detected earlier this summer: The masonry on the south wall, the roof access building, the roof itself and possibly the ceiling.

How to help
Tax deductible donations for the Rees Theater can be made in two ways. Checks can be made to Wythougan Valley Preservation Trust – or simply Whythougan – with “Rees Restoration” written in the subject line and dropped off at the Marshall County Historical Museum. Wythougan is the nonprofit group overseeing the theater project until Rees organizers formally obtain federal nonprofit status, which is expected in about two months.
Or donations can be made online at Donations made online are also through Wythougan and tax deductible. There’s also a 7-minute video at the site. Or visit and search using “Rees Update 8-2017.”