MALVERN, Ark. – At a time when the curtains are closing and movie screens remain dark, work has begun to revitalize a historic theatre in Malvern.

For eight decades, the streets of downtown Malvern were lit by the Marquee from the historic Ritz Theatre. In 2018, the doors closed and the lights went dark.

“It was operating as a first run movie theater. Have digital projectors and all those sorts of things it operated really as long as it could,” Arkansas State University Three Rivers Chancellor Steve Rook said.

That curtain call, wouldn’t be its last. Not long after, the Ritz had a new owner: Arkansas State University Three Rivers.

“Rodney Allen and Dennis Nicks, when the theater closed, gave the college the money to buy the theatre and the gift was restricted to buy the theater because they want to see someone come in and take it and restore it,” Rook said. 

Rook has big plans for the Malvern landmark including a complete renovation of the inside.

“We’re going to have an open functioning balcony. Will have a large theater in the middle. We will more than likely put a movie screen back in. We’re going to put a stage back in it. Hopefully we can retain about 500 to 550 seats,” Rook said. 

As for the facade, it is out with the bright green and purple. Instead, the brand-new sign will look just as it did in 1948.

“We want to kind of honor the history of the town and honor the history of the theatre and you know those old type of theaters are just really very special,” Rook said. 

The Marquee has already been taken down and replaced with a blank canvass.

“We’re going to have to make it look ugly to get it to where we want to go,” Rook said. 

The orange cones and caution tape are now setting the stage for what is to come. 

“We think it’s going to be great for downtown Malvern. It’s going to be great for the college and great for the community,” Rook said.

This is just phase one of construction. ASUTR is applying for more grant money to finish the project. They hope to have it complete by 2022.