Vista Theater deemed stable, council says urgent action required to save the building

North Central UP

NEGAUNEE, Mich. (WJMN) – There is hope, according to the Peninsula Arts Advisory Council.

The results of an architectural study are in, and the historic Vista Theater building has been found to be stable after a roof collapse on August 26 left the auditorium open to the elements. Urgent action is required, however, to save the building, which has graced Negaunee’s skyline for nearly 100 years. 

The PAAC has launched a GoFundMe fundraiser to begin the process of shoring up the building in the interest of public safety, with the ultimate goal of saving the building.

“The firm estimates that at least $100,000 will be required to complete three essential tasks before the snow flies,” said PAAC treasurer Lex Exworthy.

“We need to get the debris out of the center of the building, that will require a crane and cost around $30,000. Then we need to shore up the walls to prevent further damage, that will require another $30,000 investment. Finally, we need to protect the two sections of the building that are still covered from the elements, that will likely cost another $30,000 plus the contingency.”  

PAAC has long been an organization that seeks to enhance the sense of community in and around the city of Negaunee, and the current members of the organization were devastated when they heard about the collapse. 

“We have worked for the last several years to ensure the safety and viability of the building,” PAAC advisory board member Rusty Bowers said.

  • Vista Theater Negaunee
  • Vista Theater

“We are extremely grateful that no one was in the building at the time of the incident. Based on the architects report — short of having someone go up on the roof to check it, we would not have known about the blocked drain and resulting water buildup that ultimately caused the truss failure. ” 

With the help of private donors as well as the city of Negaunee, WPPI Energy and a Central Upper Peninsula Planning And Development Art Place grant over $100,000 in improvements were made to the theater and the annex building in preparation for a complete rehabilitation of the two structures. 

These expenses included: 

  • Nearly $25,000 in expert assistance including a feasibility study, an architectural design involving both buildings and engineering studies on both structures. 
  • Roughly $5,000 in plumbing and furnace repairs in the last two years.
  • Nearly $70,000 in roof and wall repairs on the Annex building next to the theater.
  • About $11,000 in repairs to the stage roof in 2018.

These expenses do not include the in-kind donations of labor and the use of equipment and supplies from area businesses and individuals over the last two years. 

In addition to the fundraising campaign, PAAC board members are working to contact current and past community partners who may be able to offer help and guidance to make the building safe in the short term and ensure it will be available for use by generations to come. 

Another important fact uncovered by the architect’s report is that the roofing materials over the theater itself did not fail, the weight of the water is what caused the damage. An estimated $25,000 was spent to recover the roof over the auditorium in 2004, and both roof drains were checked and found to be working in the fall of 2019.

Within a matter of days, the organization has raised more than $6,000.  

“The community has always been supportive of our non-profit,” Exworthy said.

“It’s proven that this theater is not just a building. We believe, easily, the Vista has  touched thousands of lives in the last 50 years alone. We look forward to continuing that legacy far into the future.”

For more information visit, or their website  

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