The Barter Theatre in Abingdon. Photo courtesy of the theater.

Barter Theatre officials hope Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s recommendation for a $700,000 grant needed to help pay for renovations and upgrades to its two theaters will result in final approval so they can move forward with the improvements this winter.

Barter’s project is one of 16 the governor is recommending for funding by the Appalachian Regional Commission, totaling $7.3 million in grants, Youngkin announced Friday.

Barter, the state theater in Abingdon, is 90 years old this year and needs a bit of a facelift. Its buildings are much older, dating back to the 1800s.

Theater officials hope to get the money, along with state grants it has applied for, to do some significant renovations to the Gilliam Stage, its main, larger theater, as well as to the Smith Theatre, which is across the street, Amy Wratchford, Barter’s interim managing director, said Friday.

Among the planned improvements: replacing the seats in both theaters, including the original seats in the main theater that Barter founder Robert Porterfield salvaged from the famous Empire Theatre in New York City when it was demolished, Wratchford said. The seats have been recovered and refurbished a few times, she added. The plan is to replace the seats with ones that are as close in design to the originals as possible to keep the same look.

The carpet will also be replaced, and there will be upgrades to the stages and dressing rooms.

“It will make the space more comfortable for our patrons and support our artists in the best way possible,” Wratchford said.

If the ARC grant and other funding comes through, the plan is to do the work in January, February and the first part of March 2024, when the theaters are dark and no plays are performed. Completion is expected around mid-March, just in time for the new season.

The grants are designed to support efforts to create jobs, improve infrastructure and provide workforce training in Virginia’s Appalachian region, which encompasses 25 counties and eight cities. ARC will finalize approval of the project awards later this year, according to a news release from the governor.

“ARC funding plays a pivotal role in empowering Appalachian communities to address their unique challenges, capitalize on their unique assets and drive positive change,” Youngkin said in the release. “These projects will create new economic opportunities, build critical infrastructure and support community development across Appalachian communities that too often go underserved.” 

The other 15 projects recommended for funding and the amounts are:

  • Blue Grass Resource Center, Highland Inn revitalization, $700,000
  • Lee County, St. Charles Monarch water line replacement, $700,000
  • Lee County, Western Lee sewer system wastewater treatment plant, $700,000
  • Patrick County, West Piedmont Planning District Commission 2023 universal broadband project, $700,000
  • Town of Stuart, downtown revitalization, $700,000
  • Wise County, Center for Workforce and Innovation in Appalachia, wastewater treatment plant, $700,000
  • Bland Ministry Center, dental clinic, $500,000
  • Dickenson County, Red Onion Industrial Park project revision, $500,000
  • New River Valley Regional Commission, Passenger Rail Station Authority planning grant, $354,000
  • Friends of Southwest Virginia, Gateways to Southwest Virginia: outdoor economy recreation plan, $300,000
  • Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center Foundation, regional simulation lab for nursing and allied health, $300,000
  • LENOWISCO Planning District Commission, InvestSWVA regional marketing initiative, $234,000
  • ’Round the Mountain: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Network, Gateway project, $100,000
  • Washington County, Mendota and Creeper Trail broadband, $100,000
  • The Crooked Road, Celebrating the Crooked Road project, $64,135

Susan Cameron is a reporter for Cardinal News. She has been a newspaper journalist in Southwest Virginia...