A Historic Theater Brings the Silver Screen Back to Beacon
One Hudson Valley developer partners with a local movie buff to create cinematic magic in Dutchess County.
Left to right: Mike Burdge, Scott Brenner, Jason Schuler, and Brendan McAlpine
Photo courtesy of Story Screen
Get ready for it, film fans. A movie theater is coming to Beacon.
It’s been a while since a permanent silver screen had a presence in town. In fact, that absence of local flicks dates back to 1968, when the historic Beacon Theatre “closed for renovations” indefinitely. Since then, the theater has operated as a multi-use drifter, swapping roles as a storage unit, a church, and, all too often, a semi-abandoned space in the heart of town.
Abandoned no longer.
As many a local Beaconite has noticed, things are buzzing inside the theater. The new vivacity is thanks in large part to Brendan McAlpine, the Hudson Valley developer behind The Roundhouse renovation in Beacon and the Dutch’s Spirits rebirth in Pine Plains. In 2015, McAlpine purchased the property from its former owners to save it from foreclosure. At the time, he had a loose vision of turning it into some sort of public space. Yet he was forced to revise his strategy when he realized just how challenging any sort of renovation to the historic, multifaceted property would be.
“The building was built in 1929,” McAlpine says. “It was in rough shape.”
In order to roll tape on the endeavor, he called on a few friends in town. First up was Mike Burdge, the longtime local film buff and brain behind Story Screen Beacon, the pop-up film screening program that takes place in and around Beacon. Based on his experience with film curation and event hosting (he organizes the Beacon HorrorShow screenings every October), not to mention his status as a longtime Beacon resident, Burdge was the perfect person to sign onto the project.
“The chance to open a true-blue movie theater in my hometown was entirely circumstantial and probably a little luckier than I’d like to admit,” says Burdge. “Brendan approached me as a guy who knew a little about movies and exhibition, and from there it just took off.”
Once united, Burdge and McAlpine teamed up with Beacon mainstays Jason Schuler and Scott Brenner, the founder and partner, respectively, of Drink More Good. The duo had previously collaborated with Burdge on Story Screen pop-ups, so they knew the concept could work well with their brand.
Even with an all-star team in the director’s chair, renovations have been far from cut and dry. When McAlpine realized the theater would not be commercially viable on its own in the long run, he opted to turn it into a mixed-use building that weaves in residential and commercial space as well.
“When I looked at how to structure this project for long term success, the only way to make the theater work was to have another ‘economic engine’ to support it,” McAlpine explains. Said ‘engine’ comes in form of 30 apartment spaces above the theater, all of which are now finished and almost fully occupied.
In the spot next door, where Harry’s Hot Sandwiches used to live, McAlpine also plans to also embrace the Beacon Theatre’s gilded history with a cocktail lounge. Dubbed Wonder Bar, it will serve as a nod to the nightclub of the same name that attracted lounge singers and musicians throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s.
Don’t grab your flapper frock just yet, though. Planned as the final segment of the theater renovation, the bar is loosely slated for a 2019 opening.
As for the theater itself, McAlpine and team are hard at work to ensure the space is the bee’s knees.
“We are currently continuing our massive project of transforming 5000-square feet…into a totally unique movie cinema, complete with three screens, comfy stadium seating, and the very best digital projection equipment,” Burdge enthuses. “Overall, our total seating occupancy for all three theaters will be 160.”
That doesn’t mean there’s a rush to get the job done, though. On the contrary, the group’s main priority is to ensure that each and every detail is just as it should be.
“Never rush to open something,” McAlpine advises. “When we do open the doors, we’ll have thought through everything.”
Burdge, who will continue hosting Story Screen events up until and after the Beacon Theatre opens, also stresses the importance of taking time to perfect each element of the property, which bridges local history with contemporary entertainment.
“We’re making a temple for people who live and breathe movies, as well as those looking for a fun night out, and we couldn’t be more excited to share it with everybody,” he says. “Coming soon!”