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Theater up for auction in Minnesota 11 Mar 2009 08:45 #31148

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Theater on auction block Saturday
by Dawn Slade

It’s not every day that a building that smells like buttered popcorn and elicits laughter, fear, tears and heart-pounding action is up for sale.

The Milaca Theatre is available once again via an auction that will be held Saturday, March 14 at 10 a.m.

Its current owners, Cathy and John Summers would like to continue owning it, but a job relocation moved them to St. Louis, Mo.

Cathy’s sisters (Cindy Ames and Kelly Johnson) have been managing it on their behalf, but both live in St. Cloud, making it difficult to maintain. And Ames is moving, which added to the decision to sell.

The Summers had three deals in place, but financing fell through twice when they thought it was sold. The third time, a lease-to-own option, fell through when the purchaser spent the money elsewhere.

“We could see no other way,” Cathy Summers said of having to auction off the property.

The Milaca theater has potential.

Above the 386-seat theater is a one bedroom apartment that was added on in the 1990s. It can be rented out or the new owner could occupy it.

Summers said a potential opportunity would be for two families to purchase the theater together, making it easier to split hours.

Nightly shows currently run Friday through Tuesday with two showings on Saturdays.

But it’s not just for movies. The theater can be used for concerts or other shows.

Summers and Johnson said church groups have had special movies and conferences.

“We would have liked to have done more,” said Johnson, who took over management in August 2007. “It has been really fun. We love working it. It’s a very good business. Business has picked up within the last year.”

In Mora, the movie theater is a community theater.

This was another option that was mentioned by Summers and Realtor Brad Maitland of United Country Real Estate, which is auctioning the business.

Mora’s Paradise Theater is owned by the community. Bob Lanoue, a retired principal, is the chairman of the board for the Mora theater. Lanoue spent 1,300 hours remodeling the building and supervising the renovation in 1999.

“We spent a lot less than what the architects originally thought,” Lanoue said.

The theater was purchased by collecting money from people in the community, two of which contributed a large amount.

In addition to movies, the theater has live shows and some church groups have used it as well.

It’s run by a board of seven people. Profits stay with the theater, mainly for the improvements that have been made over the years.

Updates have taken place at the Milaca Theatre as well.

Since the Summers purchased the theater in 2005, the auditorium walls were painted and murals were painted on the outside of the building and in the lobby.

As a bonus, Johnson and Ames are willing to work with the new buyers to train them in using the movie equipment.

“It really has been a wonderful business for us,” Summers said. “It was a time for our family to come together.” But Summers added, “It really needs to be a local owner/operator.”


There’s not a lot of history that’s been kept over the years, but the Milaca Area Historical Society has some information on the theater.

Milaca saw its first movie in an actual theater on New Year’s Eve in 1915 when the “Casino Theatre” opened. It was located across the street from the current theater (in the Kulick Jackson Law Office).

Movies ranged in price from a dime to 50 cents, depending on the show at that time.

Much to the delight of local movie goers, the year 1930 saw the addition of “talking” and “sound” equipment.

As early as 1934, a free kids’ movie was shown for youngsters - a tradition that is still in place today. The feature was “Huckleberry Finn” that year.

In 1944, the theater’s name changed to “Cozy Theatre” and a year later it was refurbished following a fire.

On New Year’s Day in 1950, the “new” theater opened at its current location with the movie, “Tell It To The Judge.”

The theater has had several owners over the years and is ready for its next owners.

“I’d love to see it live a healthy life,” Summers added. “It needs a big thinker, someone who will see it for its possibilities.”

The auction

There is a minimum reserve at the auction on March 14. That reserve amount will not be published, however.

Maitland said that once that reserve is met, it will be announced to the bidders and it will turn into an absolute auction.

The successful bidder will need to bring a $5,000 certified check for non-refundable earnest money. Proof of financing is requested and there is a 7.5 percent buyers premium.

Maitland also said the apartment is currently vacant as the tenants recently purchased a home and moved out.

An open house was held last Thursday and another will be held tonight (Thursday, March 12) from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“It’s a proven business in the community,” Maitland said. “It’s a profitable, ongoing business.”
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