Restaurant, theater eyed for former Delft building

MARQUETTE – A downtown landmark and treasured icon to many people in the community could be brought back to life as early as November.

The Marquette City Commission on Monday gave its approval for the Marquette Downtown Development Authority to apply for a Community Development Block Grant to convert the former Delft Theater at 139 W. Washington St. into a 250-seat restaurant.

The building also would serve as a “dinner theater” with classic movies shown three or four nights a week.

The grant, administrated through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, would be for $481,000 to help fund the $1.6 million project that is expected to bring 25 to 30 jobs to the area.

“I know that the Delft Theater is so important to the community,” said Mona Lang, DDA executive director.

The Delft restaurant will have casual dining with a full bar and Michigan craft beer, with the menu consisting of natural and organic, locally produced product when available, according to the grant application.

The former theater was closed two years ago, with the building and facade falling into disrepair. However, the project will involve restoration and maintenance of the historic facade, the original 1914 design of which was copied from Dutch architecture. Also to be restored is the marquee, which will be restored and relit.

“It’s been a treasure in our community for a long time, and we’re really looking forward to the restoration,” Lang said of the marquee.

The project calls for the interior of the Delft to have a historic theater motif maintaining as many of the 100-year-old materials as possible and to reconnect the theater with Donckers, an adjacent candy store and restaurant.

The developer will be Thomas Vear and Jennifer Ray, WRV LLC, with the Delft Theater renovation the fourth project it has undertaken downtown.

Its previous renovations include the Marquette Food Co-op and professional offices at 109 W. Baraga Ave.; 131 W. Washington, which has an optometrist, vintage retail store and certified day care; and Donckers.

Vear outlined the project to the commission, saying he plans to keep the marquee as original as possible.

The original theater was expanded in 1919-20 by constructing a bridge over a train right-of-way over what was known as the “Jackson Cut” to the grand theater on Main Street, and this bridge will be restored as part of the project.

The restaurant is estimated to be 7,500 square feet, with four floors and rooftop deck seating, according to the grant application. The first level off the south side of the building will include an entrance and elevator access, while the second level will have patron seating, restrooms and a kitchen.

The main dining area will be on the third level, with a main entrance on Washington. The level also is expected to include a kitchen with a full bar located on the bridge. On the west wall will be a large movie screen with a flexible stage for live events.

The fourth level will be a balcony with restaurant seating that will allow movie viewing.

Access to Donckers will be from the second, third and fourth levels.

The commission also on Monday directed the city to develop an agreement with WRV LLC.

Commissioners spoke in favor of the project.

“It’s a good thing to have,” Mayor Pro Tem Fred Stonehouse said. “It helps build a good vision of the city and how it’s going to get there.”

Commissioner Mike Coyne applauded the “unique idea” behind the project.

“I just want to recognize the degree of entrepreneurship this shows,” he said.

The DDA and the city worked with the former building owners -first GKC and then Carmike Cinema, with ownership changing in 2005 – to make improvements. In 2004, the former owners announced plans to remove the marquee, but strong community opposition kept the marquee in place.

Mayor Robert Niemi singled out the marquee in expressing enthusiasm for the renovation.

“I just want to say I can’t wait to see the flashing lights on the marquee,” he said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.