GREEN COVE SPRINGS – There is a coming attraction at the historic Clay Theatre, but it’s not a new film.
New owners Andrea and Daniel Vallencourt originally wanted to renovate and reopen 1937 movie house to the community, something the city hasn’t seen in a while with the theater only being in operation one year out of the last 10. However, after some calculating they saw their dream slipping away.
“It was a beautiful theater, it was fully set up. We started doing our due diligence to see if we could make this thing work as a theater and that was our original intent,” Daniel said. “But no matter how we crunched the numbers, if the place isn’t sold out, you’re not making any money on the movie. For us, we went so many different directions to try to get to profitability but we always ended up looking like we would be losing money.”
He also added that movie distributors wouldn’t have allowed the theater to show new release movies as the Fleming Island 12 theater is too close and they don’t like to pit theaters against each other. They were ready to pull out of the purchase until Andrea came up with a solution that would make things work.
“Andrea decided to go a different route and made a whole big packet. She said the only way this could work would be as an event venue,” he said. “The closest thing to this [in the area] is called The Treasury in St. Augustine and it does over 100 weddings a year. Her idea was to have a premier event space in Clay County for elegant weddings.”
Once they changed course, they purchased the building and began demolishing the old interior, which included removing everything down to the bare brick walls and tearing out the slanted theater flooring. As it sits now, it’s a huge room with original ceilings and a wall of windows that have been bricked over but will soon be opened up to allow natural light to fill the space.
“The biggest challenge we’ve already accomplished is removing the old interior,” Daniel said. “We’re going to have time lapse photography throughout the process and we’ll be doing regular updates so people are going to be able to see this thing come to life.”
The main theater building will have a second-floor balcony surrounding the main event hall. Next to the building – in what now serves as the paved parking lot – there will be a fully walled-in courtyard with art deco gates to match the façade. They plan to stick with the historic 1930s feel of some of the other buildings on Walnut. They are offering to clean up the two buildings next door that sit on the corner of that block with that work starting this Thursday.
At the July 10 Green Cove Springs City Council meeting, Council approved the site plan on a 4-0 vote with commissioner Van Royal recusing himself. He is currently under contract with Vallencourt to sell the grass lot on the other corner of the property for future use as added parking. With that vote, things can finally start moving and Vallencourt expects construction to begin in late August or early September and finished by February or March 2019.
“We’ve already gone live online and we’ve already got a lot of inquiries and shown the place a few times to potential brides and we’ll officially start doing bookings in May,” he said.
Though it won’t serve full time as a theater as it did in the past, Vallencourt said they already have plans to provide the space for community gatherings and events other than weddings. They have space to project movies on the side of the building and host gatherings in the new courtyard space.