The Anniston City Council voted Tuesday to sell the Calhoun Theater, once a Noble Street landmark, to a Birmingham developer for $7,000.
“I’m just thrilled that after 20 years of the property deteriorating, someone is willing to buy it,” Councilwoman Millie Harris said at Tuesday’s meeting at the Anniston City Meeting Center.
One of the owners of Fanaei Investments, a Birmingham company known for renovating and selling urban properties, addressed the council at a meeting earlier this month, asking the council to declare the former theater surplus and sell it.
It wasn’t a difficult pitch to make. The Calhoun, built in the 1940s, thrived in a mid-century Anniston that was bristling with soldiers and devoid of television screens. It hung on into the 1983, despite the rise of TV and of bigger theaters in other parts of town. Richard Pryor’s “The Toy” — still a new film at the time — was the last movie screened there.
A private contractor’s attempt in 1996 to renovate the structure as an entertainment venue eventually came to a halt. Since then, the building has become the city’s property, and the city’s problem. City officials say there’s major damage to the roof, and there was talk at one point of turning it into an open-air amphitheater. In 2019, volunteers worked to at least spruce up the exterior, tearing down vines and putting up classic movie posters on the building’s exterior.
It’s unclear exactly what Fanaei intends to do with the building. No one from the company appeared at Tuesday’s meeting, and attempts to reach the company by phone were unsuccessful. City officials say they know only that the plan is to turn the site into some sort of entertainment venue. Fanaei has done similar work in Birmingham, city officials said.
“Frankly, I’m grateful someone’s interested in the building,” said Mayor Jack Draper.
Councilman D.D. Roberts said that since news of the sale first got out, some local residents have complained that the site could be sold for just $7,000. He said those critics don’t know the condition of the site.
“Anybody that knows the history of Anniston knows that building has been sitting there for years,” Roberts said.
Signs of downtown interest
City officials have long said they expect interest in downtown properties to quicken as contractors near completion of the new federal courthouse on Gurnee Avenue, a building that is expected to bring more traffic and business downtown. The council earlier this month approved tax incentives for Cobblestone Properties, a company that plans to build a hotel downtown.
Another downtown site, the Freedom Riders National Monument, is also working to step up activity at the old Greyhound bus station that is the core of the National Parks Service site. May will mark the 60th anniversary of the attack on the Freedom Riders, civil rights advocates who rode through Anniston to protest segregation on interstate buses.
Park ranger Kris Butcher brought council members a copy of the new junior park ranger workbook for the Freedom Riders site. Junior ranger badges and workbooks are a common attraction at national park sites, and Butcher said the workbook would be available some time in May.
“The intent is to have something there even when a ranger isn’t available,” Butcher said. The Greyhound station was opened for visitors for the first time earlier this year, and Butcher said there’s a plan to install informational kiosks at the Greyhound station and the bus burning site.
In other business, the council:
— Appointed six new members to the Main Street Anniston board of directors: Kristin Filligim, Thomas Zimmerman, Chris Collins, Jacqueline Judkins, Christopher Carr and Dara Murphy. The board also reappointed Christa Morphis.
— Tabled a motion to pass a new debris collection ordinance for the city. Council members plan to seek more input on the ordinance at a public meeting at the City Meeting Center Thursday at 5:30 p.m.