|Mayor details strategy
to save Bijou Theatre
March 30, 2005 - Mayor Bill Haslam announced
the strategy to ensure the historic Bijou Theatre remains a Knoxville
treasure for future generations.
"The Bijou represents an important part of Knoxville history
and as a performing arts venue contributes to the growing energy
in our downtown," Mayor Haslam said. "Working with members
of the Bijou and the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation's board,
community volunteers and the Bijou's creditors we have a plan in
place to stabilize the current situation and lay the foundation
for the theatre's future success."
The announcement followed a vote by the board of directors of the
Tennessee Theatre Foundation to manage the 188-year-old landmark,
Entertainment overseeing the Bijou's daily operations in addition
to the Tennessee Theatre.
analysis of the condition of the Gay Street building and the theatre's
finances estimates that about $2.1 million is needed to stabilize
the property. The cost estimate includes construction that addresses
structural deterioration, mechanical systems and accessibility issues;
eliminates or reduces past liabilities; and creates a two-year operating
The theatre's board of directors will seek to have a federal grant
of $571,000 earmarked for construction costs at the Tennessee Theatre
used on behalf of the Bijou. Mayor Haslam will lead a community
fundraising effort for the balance.
Mayor Haslam recognized Knoxville businessmen Fred Langley and Sam
Furrow for purchasing earlier this year a $731,000 mortgage held by
an out-of-town bank. The high-interest mortgage was in default, and
foreclosure was imminent. They have significantly reduced the interest
rate on the loan and waived interest payments until after the theatre's
finances are stabilized.
The Mayor also praised the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation's
board of directors for agreeing to provide leadership for the Bijou,
on the heels of the very successful reopening of the Tennessee Theatre.
"The Bijou Theatre certainly deserves our support as a historic
venue that contributes to the momentum being enjoyed downtown,"
Mayor Haslam said. "I encourage everyone to get involved in
this effort to ensure the Bijou Theatre remains a landmark for future
Bruce Hartmann, chairman of the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation,
said, "This agreement represents hours of discussion, due diligence
and a commitment to ensuring downtown Knoxville thrives as the cultural
center of our region. The Tennessee Theatre represents what our
community can accomplish when we work together toward a common goal,
and I know that success can be repeated with the Bijou Theatre."
The building that houses the Bijou Theatre was completed in 1817
and opened as the Knoxville Hotel, with many social gatherings held
in its dining room and ballroom. The hotel and its successors hosted
U.S. presidents Andrew Jackson, Rutherford Hayes, Andrew Johnson,
James Polk, and Ulysses Grant.
In the early 1900s the hotel's ownership changed frequently, and
in 1909 the Bijou Theatre opened at the site. Vaudeville took the
stage first, followed by motion pictures and then adult films until
the theatre was closed in 1973. With the threat of demolition hanging
over the building, several concerned citizens rallied to save the
theater from being destroyed.
traces its own history to 1974 when several concerned citizens stepped
in to save the Bijou Theatre and ignited a movement to preserve historic
structures in Knoxville," said Kim Trent, executive director
of Knox Heritage. "It's gratifying on the eve of our 31st anniversary
to see the community unite once again under Mayor Haslam's leadership
to ensure the Bijou's future for years to come."
PRESS RELEASE INDEX