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Kentucky Theatre Could Reopen As Nonprofit In December

Josh James
An empty Kentucky Theatre awaits a possible December revival under new management.

The pandemic-shuttered Kentucky Theatre is poised for a comeback in the coming months, with new management behind the scenes.

Credit Josh James / WUKY
Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton and longtime Kentucky Theatre General Maager Fred Mills stand outside the venue on Sept. 24, 2021.

"We will see you all in December for the movies, right? And the popcorn!"

With that, Mayor Linda Gorton announced what could be the launch of a new era for the beloved downtown Lexington icon, which went dark last October. She's recommending the city council put the nonprofit Friends of the Kentucky, formed in 2012 to help finance the venue, in charge.

"It's very fortunate. I don't think that there was lots of people beating down the door wanting to take on this challenge," said Fred Mills, who has become the embodiment and heart of the cinema during his decades at the helm. Under the fresh management, Mills would remain in his position.

While traditions like the Summer Classics series and midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings are set to continue, Mills said the new team also wants to attract more diverse newcomers to the theatre.

"They have a lot of new ideas, ideas to do some different things, to bring live music back downtown to Main Street again," Mills explains. "We're looking for a younger audience, in addition to our loyal patrons that we've had over the years."

Also in the works are a third smaller screen and a possible international film festival.  

If the deal is sealed by the Urban County Council, the theatre will also switch to a nonprofit model — offering memberships that allow supporters access to discounted tickets and concessions and special members-only events. An individual membership is expected to run about $50.

"The theatre has always functioned as a for-profit venture, but we think non-profit status is essential," Friend of the Kentucky co-chair Hayward Wilkerson said. "And 95% of art houses across the country agree with us."

If all goes to plan — and that's a big if these days — the screens could light up again as early as December 1.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.