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GEM Theatre: A decade of renewal

Calhoun’s Gem Theatre has a long and storied history.

First established in 1927, it was part of a chain of GEM Theatres, much like AMC or Regal today. It was the only central venue in Calhoun for the performing arts and the only movie theater until the late 1970s.

At some point the building was bought or transferred and became Martin Theater. After Martin Triple Theater opened of WC Bryant Parkway in the 80s, Calhoun’s GEM Theatre would stop operating around 1983.

Though the GEM was closed, it didn’t sit empty until its reopening. It had several roles in the 21 year interim before it was purchased by the King family.

The most notable of those roles was the GEM Theatre’s stint as Mulkey’s Men’s Store. The theater itself was left intact behind the store’s setup, virtually untouched.

“The bones of the building were still intact,” said Dr. Kim Watters, President of the GEM Theatre Board of Directors.

The theater itself was unused until 2004, when Pearl King decided that she wanted to reopen it. The King family bought the GEM, and began the journey to reopen.

“They wanted to make sure Pearl’s dream came to life,” said Watters.

It took seven long years to reopen between fundraising and restoration. Time had not been particularly kind, and the theater had water damage to the stage and interior.

Though there was some fundraising involved in reopening, a lot of the money came from the King family. They were determined to ensure its reopening.

“There was a lot of painstaking effort, time, and work that was spent,” Watters said.

The family’s hard work paid off, and Calhoun’s GEM Theatre reopened August 27, 2011.

When 2020 was stolen away by the COVID-19 pandemic, the GEM was not exempt from the suffering. Times were tough, as they were for many small businesses across America.

“We almost didn’t survive COVID,” said Watters.

To Watters, that span of time was painful. The theatre can make light of the situation now, but they worried about losing the GEM during that time.

It was some effort to keep the theatre going despite the pandemic, but with case counts lower and the world moving again, the GEM has some breathing room.

“We are truly humbled by the fact that we had some key people that stepped in and helped,” Watters said. “We had some extraordinary luck that came our way that allowed us to financially survive. We had a lot of grace shown to us.”

The theatre is a 501(c)(3), which means that it is a nonprofit organization. To help keep the lights on and the GEM theatre operating, individuals can make a donation, which is tax-deductible.

“We hope that people will realize that a gift today is an opportunity tomorrow,” Watters said.

Now that things are closer to normal, the theater is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its grand reopening, and looks to the future.

The GEM’s board of directors, which includes Dr. Kim Watters, Dr. Greg Asbury, Colt Chambers, Faye Bentley, Mark Waters, Jim Rosencrance, and Sarah Ostuw, are seeking to revitalize the theater and allow for growth and improvement to ensure the GEM sticks around long after their jobs are done.

One thing that the Board of Directors wants to revamp is membership. Currently, members take advantage of discounts on tickets, but there’s discussion of changing that to something that allows a more personalized membership experience.

“We want to set up a foundation that funds the GEM for generations to come,” said Watters.

Additionally, the Pearl Awards will be making a return in Spring 2022. The award has previously honored those in the community who have done good work and made a difference, and Watters is thrilled that they will be able to do so again.

The GEM has also become home to the Sugar Valley Theatre Company. The company, which is a professional theatre group from northwest Georgia, will utilize the GEM Theatre as its primary location to perform, bringing shows to the theatre as early as Christmas.

“Sugar Valley Theatre Company is so excited for the future of this partnership,” said the group on its Facebook page.

To further diversify their offerings, the GEM also seeks to bring professional theatre to Calhoun regularly by next year. They intend to find artists from across the country so that Calhoun residents don’t have to make the trek to Chattanooga or Atlanta for theatre.

Expansion is also in the works for the theatre. The GEM hopes to expand into the Bailey Building, site of Bill Bailey’s old law office, to add some much-needed features.

The additions should include a breakout space, hospitality areas including showers for visiting artists, office space, and more. This will allow more room within the GEM to more easily accommodate large audiences in their concessions area, as well as offer visiting bands to prepare for shows on premises rather than in hotels.

With all of their ongoing and future projects, the GEM aims to create the feeling of being a community space like it was in the 40s.

“Life happened there,” said Watters.

The GEM is diversifying what entertainment they offer and putting in the work to revitalize and, though the time of getting your news from the movie theater is long gone, Watters thinks that it can become a community staple again.

“Everybody can be a friend of the GEM,” Watters said. “We hope that everybody realizes that.”

For more information or to become a member, visit calhoungemtheatre.org.


Local
Tiny home zoning variance dies without motion, council approves property purchase

A requested variance for a tiny home development failed to come to a vote at Monday night’s Calhoun City Council meeting.

The variance of 610 feet less than the minimum floor area of 1,150 requested by Tiny House Hand Up Inc. for a development off Beamer Road and Harris Beamer Road died without a motion following a public hearing.

“Nationwide, two out of three people who own a tiny home are either senior citizens or first-time homeowners.” Tiny House Hand Up Chief Executive Officer Haley Stephens. “They will allow the free enterprise system to help where government has been unable to, and they will interject the pride of ownership into each unit.”

Stephens said though tiny homes aren’t for everyone, they could play a role in helping to solve the local affordable housing issue.

Several citizens turned out to speak against the variance Monday night, including Butch Layson, who said his family has been developing a nearby subdivision and worries about property values in the area.

“I’m all for affordable housing,” Layson said. “I think it’s the wrong way to go about it. Seems like it’s out of the realm of the variance and that’s not the way to do it.”

Ladella Childres, who lives on nearby Wayne Street, said she was also concerned about housing values in the area that might be caused by a tiny home development, while Beamer Road resident Austin Hawkins questioned the future stability of any homeowners association that might be set up by Tiny House Hand Up.

Harris Beamer Road resident Robert Taylor had questions about the age, vehicle, and occupancy restrictions any future development covenant might put in place, while Beamer Circle resident Kendra Gubaci expressed concerns over the ability of the city to keep up with trash and other municipal services in the area.

Councilwoman Jackie Palazzolo responded to criticism she said she’s recently faced due to her stance on the development in question.

“I do my own research in every single thing I vote on,” Palazzolo said. “I listen, I research, I vote independently.”

Following the public hearing, no motion to vote on the variance request was made by anyone on the council, thus the issue died.

Two more public hearings on the agenda ended in unanimous passing votes, including a zoning change request from R-2 to planned residential development for 39 acres at the termination of Millers Lane by Venture Communities LLC, and a beer and wine package license for Samrat Business LLC/ABC Convenience Store at 703 Oothcalooga St.

Another item concerning city zoning saw its first reading before the council Monday night. The ordinance would amend, strike or change certain sections of Part II – Code of Ordinances, Appendix A – Zoning, Article VII – Use Requirements by District, Section 7-14, PRD, Planned Residential Development; to “repeal all conflicting ordinances, to fix an effective date; and for other purposes.” The item is eligible for a public hearing Nov. 8.

A motion to allow Mayor Jimmy Palmer to sign the purchase contract for the city’s purchase of a property at 325 S. Wall St., a parcel adjacent to the city fire department.

“This is an opportunity the city has to plan for the future of the Calhoun Fire Department,” City Administrator Paul Worley said. “It’s approximately 0.67 acres with a building already on site. We feel like it’s a good acquisition for the City of Calhoun for immediate relief to provide additional office space for the department.”

Council members also unanimously approved a bid award to Momon Construction for a $427,281 City Records Retention Building. Momon, a local firm, was the second-to-lowest bidder for the job, but ultimately beat out Riley Construction due to various factors dealing with completed project history, timeline questions and other concerns following reference checks.

Also approved was a traditional downtown route approval from Gordon County Schools for the Gordon Central High School homecoming parade set for Thursday, Oct. 28, as well as a request by Calhoun First Baptist Church to close a section of Fain Street from College Street to Pitts Street, Monday, Oct. 22, so preschool children can participate in a trunk-or-treat event.

A resolution was also approved to amend the intergovernmental participant contract “among all members respecting participation in Electric Cities of Georgia Inc.”

The next meeting of the council is set for Monday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. All meetings are open to the public.


Local
Body found in Kent Drive pond identified

A body discovered in a pond off Kent Drive has been identified as a Florida man, According to authorities.

According to Calhoun Police Chief Tony Pyle, the body of a male was found floating nude in a pond near a residential area Sunday morning.

The body, which appeared to have “been there a day or two,” according to Pyle, was eventually identified as 18-year-old Michael Anthony Finnegan. He was discovered by the resident of a nearby home.

Finnegan, a Florida resident, had been staying at a residence on Baxter Road, according to police.

He was eventually identified by family members via a social media post made by the Calhoun Police Department Sunday showing a partially clothed man caught on security camera footage.

Authorities are still working to determine the nature of Finnegan’s death and the detail surrounding the incident as the investigation continues.

The Gordon County Coroner’s Office said Monday that it would take at least a week before results from the autopsy would be available from the crime lab.


Local
COVID Update: 37 new local cases, two deaths

New local COVID-19 cases remain promising as October enters its second week.

From Thursday through Friday, Gordon County had 37 new cases and two deaths. Statewide, there were 5,969 new cases and 265 deaths.

As of Monday evening, the Georgia Department of Public Health had not yet published their weekend COVID data. The Saturday COVID update will include this data.

Cases are overall lower than they were last October, both in Georgia and nationwide. Last October preceded the winter surge, whereas this October follows a surge of new cases attributed to the Delta variant.

In total, Gordon County has seen more than 11,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to information from GDPH. Statewide, there have been over 1.2 million confirmed cases.

As of October 8, Gordon County Schools reported 16 cases in students and one case in staff. Calhoun City Schools reported 11 cases in students and no cases in staff.

These numbers are a slight increase over the previous week, but are still relatively low at around 0.25% and 0.27% of the student body, respectively.

While there has been an upward trend in vaccines administered, Gordon County has seen slow growth. Approximately 41% of the population has received at least one shot, while 36% are fully vaccinated.

These numbers lag behind Georgia’s statewide numbers significantly. Across the state, 55% have had at least one dose while around 48% of the population are fully vaccinated.

According to information released by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Georgia ranks 46th in percentage of the population fully vaccinated among the 50 US states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico ranks first in that list, while West Virginia comes in last.

To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine or booster appointment, log on to dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine or call 888-457-0186 for the Health Department Vaccine Scheduling Resource Line. The Gordon County Health Department, 310 N. River Street, Calhoun, is now offering flu shots on a walk-in basis.

Anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or those who have been in close contact with an individual with COVID-19, should be tested regardless of vaccination status. At DPH/Mako Medical test sites, testing is free of charge.

To find a COVID-19 test site, log on to dph.georgia.gov/covidtesting.


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