VERMILLION, S.D. -- From the very start, members of a downtown Vermillion cultural organization believed revitalizing the city's downtown movie theaters was a blockbuster of an idea.

The idea to raise money to buy and renovate the Coyote Twin Theater a couple summers ago turned out to be a smash hit.

So has a second fundraising effort -- a sequel of sorts. Its result, the upgrade of one of the theater's two auditoriums, is set for a premier this weekend.

The improvements tie in to the Vermillion Downtown Cultural Association's goal to improve the cultural and entertainment options in Vermillion's downtown district. A vibrant movie theater can have a starring role in a downtown's night life.

"The movie theater acts as an anchor. It attracts people, gives people a reason to come downtown," said Jason Thiel, the association's executive director.

People want something to do before and after a movie. Those entertainment options are becoming more plentiful.

Michelle Maloney, vice president of the association's board of directors, said that since the Coyote Twin was improved in August 2015, new bars, restaurants and shops have opened downtown. The theater can't take full credit for that, Maloney said, but she'd like to think the consistent traffic the theater draws has played a role.

"Since we've taken this on and shown an investment in it, we've tried to show people downtown can be a cultural center," Maloney said.

A quick flashback: the Vermillion Downtown Cultural Association teamed with Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Co., the University of South Dakota and other investors to buy the Coyote Twin, 10 E. Main St., and Vermillion Theater, about a block away on the opposite side of Main Street, in 2015 after the theaters' owner announced his retirement.

The group made some needed repairs to the Coyote Twin to keep it open and keep moviegoers from going to nearby theaters in Sioux City or Yankton, South Dakota.

Maloney said that after some time, the association's board realized it needed to modernize the theater, built in 1910, to keep patrons coming. So a $225,000 fundraising campaign was launched to fund upgrades. In August, one of the auditoriums was closed and stripped down to the brick walls and concrete floors.

On Friday, an open house will serve as the premiere for the upgraded auditorium, which will now feature stadium seating, new carpet and seats, a larger screen, new sound system, a stage, facilities for the hearing impaired and improved wheelchair access and fire exits.

The auditorium will be renamed the RED Steakhouse Auditorium, named for the downtown restaurant owned by Jerad and Peggy Higman, who donated a large portion of the planning and materials for the renovation.

It's hoped that the renovations will attract more people not just to see movies, but to become involved with the theater. Several businesses currently sponsor free movie nights. USD students and groups have provided a steady source of volunteer labor for renovation projects. There's a monthly "chick flick" night. On another night a music-themed movie is tied into the National Music Museum on the USD campus.

"It's been great to see all the community support," Maloney said. "I was never worried about this place."

The work isn't finished. Phase 2 of the Downtown Cultural Association's fundraising campaign, titled "On With the Show," is planned to upgrade the Coyote Twin's other auditorium. This spring, the USD fine arts department will paint a mural on the side of the building.

Plans call for a Phase 3 focusing on the lobby and Phase 4 to fund exterior improvements.

Future phases will support the Vermillion Theater, which has been closed for two years. The Downtown Cultural Association pictures a renovated building that could host a range of cultural events: movies, concerts, art shows, recitals and more.

That project, though a few years down the road, excites Maloney, who said the Vermillion Theater could add a cultural element currently missing from downtown and hopefully lead to more development.

"I can't wait until we're on Phase 6 and people say this has completely changed downtown," she said.

It would be the kind of happy ending moviegoers and downtown Vermillion businesses can appreciate.

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Court reporter

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