Movie lovers want to reopen the Colonial Theatre as a nonprofit, aspiring to mirror the success of theaters in Dover-Foxcroft and Rockland.
In this April 14, 2020, file photo, people walk past the Colonial Theatre in downtown Belfast. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Movie-loving Belfast residents have formed a coalition to reopen the Colonial Theatre as a not-for-profit community entertainment center following the models of other successful nonprofit theaters in Maine.

The Colonial Theatre closed in September after operating for more than 100 years when owners Mike Hurley and Therese Bagnardi retired. The theater has been for sale since 2015, but no buyers have come forward. Now, the newly formed group Save Our Colonial Theatre wants to step in.

The group’s 12-member steering committee envisions the theater’s role downtown as an entertainment and education hub with programming that addresses specific community interests and desires. It will play new and classic movies while also hosting other events and gatherings too, according to a press release.

Eric Buch, head of the group’s steering committee, hopes to make the theater a gathering place for community members by hosting presentations, collaborating with local cultural institutions and potentially converting some of the space into a stage for live music and theater productions.

“I’m always looking for opportunities to partner with other organizations where it makes sense,” Buch said.

The group aims to mirror the success of theaters like the Strand in Rockland and the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft, both of which have operated as nonprofits for years. Buch said since the group’s first meeting in late March they’ve met with a dozen theaters on the midcoast.

“These visits strengthened our impression of how possible this is, how strongly the communities they’re located in have responded to their growing diversity of programs, and gave us some ideas we just hadn’t thought about yet,” Buch said.

The Belfast group publicly launched Saturday with a limited-seating screening at the Colonial Theatre of “Citizen Coolidge,” a documentary by filmmaker Anne Continelli about community efforts that saved the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The showing was followed by a Q&A with the Massachusetts theater’s past and current board members about the theater’s preservation and an announcement from the filmmaker about her latest project, which features Belfast and the Colonial Theatre.

The Belfast group also has entered into a sponsorship agreement with the Center Theatre to accept donations for the project on the Colonial Theatre’s behalf, allowing fundraising efforts to begin while the group prepares to apply for nonprofit status.

The price-tag for buying the building and renovating it could cost up to $1.5 million, Buch said, and getting local people interested and involved will help them meet early goals. To that end, Save Our Colonial Theatre will likely hold additional community events in the summer and early fall, Buch said.

“We need to find avenues whereby the wider community can continue to learn about what’s happening on our front,” Buch said. “But also have an opportunity to share their thoughts about what they’d like to see the Colonial host or do in the future.”

Braeden Waddell is a reporter covering Belfast and Waldo County. He grew up in Waldoboro and joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023 after working as an associate producer for National Public Radio. He graduated...