Two buyers come forward in bid for Strand Theatre in downtown Pontiac

Posted on June 4, 2012

The years of the Strand Theatre sitting in limbo might come to an end this month.

Emergency Manager Lou Schimmel said he has two prospective buyers for the North Saginaw Street property and plans to finalize its sale within a month.

The three-story building was built in the Renaissance style and opened in 1921.

The City of Pontiac has owned the venue since 1986.

“I’m 75, and I went here when I was a teenager,” Schimmel said as he walked around the theater.

The interior shows evidence of work on the structure, including the electrical and heating and cooling systems. There is one seat left in place in front of the stage, and some bird carcasses were visible in the building’s stairwells and on window sills.

The sale of the building has to be approved by the Michigan Department of Treasury, and would include both the Strand Theatre and the 8 N. Saginaw St. building.

The former home of the Pontiac Growth Group and Downtown Development Authority shares a wall with the theater.

One potential buyer is from the metro area and has been “working with the county,” Schimmel said, and another “has done similar work and is in the business of dealing with theatrical acts and venues.”

“We need something that’s more of a theatrical venue,” Schimmel said, indicating he did not want to sell to a buyer interested in converting the space into a nightclub.

Since its renovation was stopped and the theater was padlocked, heating and performing essential maintenance at the Strand has cost the city about $16,000 per year

The Strand Theatre was a movie house until 1963, when it was sold and became The Forum, showing art films. It continued in that incarnation until 1966. From 1967 onward, the building was known as The Campus Theater, a venue that showed adult films.

An amateur nude dancing contest was raided by Pontiac police in 1981, and The Campus Theater was condemned by the city shortly thereafter.

After the city purchased the Strand Theatre for $250,000 in 1986 from the Joel Goldberg family, more than $2 million was spent on renovations.

The last time the Strand was in use was from 1992 to 1994, when the Attic Theatre group staged productions there until it was shut down for code violations.

In a 1997 Oakland Press article, then-city councilman Everett Seay said he was confident the Strand would be revived.

“I’ve already put money aside for season tickets,” he said at the time.

The most recent work done on the Strand was paid for in part with Tax Increment Finance Authority bonds. The money was captured from increases in city property tax revenues over and above previous years’ income.

“This was a sinkhole for somebody’s buddy to make a lot of money,” Schimmel said of the most recent renovations

A report on the theater prepared by Main Street Oakland County and dated January 2012 reads: “By 2004, things were becoming a little ‘disjointed,’ according to one consultant on the project, and the renovation finally came to a screeching halt after spending $7 million, with many sub-contractors still owed additional monies. It was not only incomplete, but damaged by ill-conceived plans and lack of historic sensitivity.”

“It’s going to take someone with deep pockets,” Schimmel said of fixing up the Strand. “Someone who has the money and is enamored with trying to help Pontiac.”

By: Dustin Blitchok,,