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Group has big plans for old Regent

According to one of the organizers of the Regent Theatre cleanup Saturday, the effort to clear trash out of the old movie house is just the opening scene.

“It’s destroyed inside, but we eventually want to turn it into a ‘one-stop shop’ youth center,” said Chris Rodriguez, a board member of Kids and Promise, the nonprofit community group that owns the building, located on the corner of Third and Washington streets in Dunkirk.

Rodriguez is also founder of Small Town, Big Minds, a podcast that evolved into another community organization. He used that group, and his personal Facebook page, to organize the cleanup for Kids and Promise. The effort attracted about 30 people. Farrell Roofing paid for a trash container, he added.

The Regent closed in 1992 and its audio-visual equipment got sold off long ago. Asked what was inside, Rodriguez said, “We threw most of the stuff away. It was mostly trash. We do have a lot of seats in there still.” He said his group could sell the theater chairs to help fund future renovations to the building, and may also offer a few to the Dunkirk Historical Society for a possible museum display.

Rodriguez emphasized, “We’re in the beginning stages right now. I just cleaned seven feet of water out of the basement.”

Submitted Photo Volunteers help Big Minds, Small Town work on the old Regent Theater at Third and Washington streets in Dunkirk. The building is being considered for the new 2XL program.

There are three things that must happen, he said, before any renovation starts: the cleanup which happened Saturday, but also a comprehensive report on the building’s condition and creation of blueprints for construction.

The report is already funded through money from the Ralph Wilson Foundation and the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation. The blueprints are set to be funded through a $10,000 outlay from Dunkirk’s Community Development Block Grant program, approved last week by the city Common Council.

Kids at Promise runs the 2XL youth boxing program and the Smartup Startup online entrepreneurship program, which are set to use some of the space. Rodriguez also envisions a computer center and lounge geared to youth.

However, it will be a while before any of that happens. He acknowledged that the erection of a 2XL sign on the building by a previous program director was “a little premature,” as the space is nowhere near ready for the pugilists’ use.

“This is a nice three- to five-year project,” he said, “unless we get a big lump sum of money here soon.”

In conclusion, Rodriguez wanted to make sure he said “thank you” to everyone who joined Saturday’s effort.

Jill Meaux, Dunkirk’s planning and development director, expressed support for the project.

“We always support revitalization efforts in the City and it will be great to see the old Regent Theater brought back to life,” she said. “We applaud the efforts of the group this weekend and for the work that they are doing with the youth in our community. Mayor (Wilfred) Rosas and I have both met and talked with Mr. Rodriguez and will support all efforts that benefit our community.”

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