Theater project aims to put Wytheville in limelight
Soon after Todd Wolford became executive director of community revitalization nonprofit Downtown Wytheville Inc. in 2015, he began seeking pictures of the Soda Shop, the Main Street hotspot his grandfather owned in the late ’50s and ’60s.
After locating a couple photos of his grandfather’s packed establishment, Wolford had an epiphany: His job was to bring back that vibrant downtown community his grandfather had once helped to create. “I got really motivated about doing it for the family,” he says.
Wolford went on to oversee a $4.2 million streetscape improvement initiative that has brought improved lighting and sidewalks, new street furniture and a sound system to the downtown area. “That really got things ready for business,” Wolford says.
Since then, two craft breweries and a bakery opened, and an art school expanded. “It really changed the landscape of downtown,” he says. “Then things started to pop up around it.”
The next step for downtown Wytheville’s revitalization is reopening The Millwald Theatre on Main Street, a project essential to downtown Wytheville’s future, Wolford says.
In July, board members of the nonprofit Millwald Theatre Inc. announced they’d closed on a federal New Market Tax Credit allocation provided by national asset management firm Enhanced Capital, as well as a bridge loan to allow construction to begin on the $4.5 million theater renovation, according to Mark Bloomfield, chairman of the group’s board of directors. If construction goes smoothly, the theater could reopen by September 2022.
Once the town’s “cultural and social center,” the 1928 theater hosted vaudeville performances, movies, pageants and town debates, according to its website, before it closed in 2006.
Wytheville’s town government started the ball rolling on the renovation in 2018, allocating $600,000 to purchase the theater. Organizers assembled the rest of the funding via historic tax credits, private donations and grants, including $500,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission.
When completed, the Millwald will offer seating for 500 patrons, with updated sound and lighting, classrooms and administrative space.
About 2,000 hotel rooms sit near the intersection of Interstates 77 and 81, minutes away from the Millwald, Bloomfield points out. He wants the theater to offer movies, concerts and performances six days a week to draw visitors downtown.
“It’s going to make all the difference in the world in terms of future sustainability for the downtown business district,” he says. ν