MILLVILLE - Finances have been secured for the reconstruction of the Levoy Theatre, theater officials say, but some local residents want the project to move forward faster.
Phillip Van Embden, president of the Friends of the Levoy Theatre, said the theater recently received an insurance settlement from its carrier, Colony Insurance. While he declined to say how much was paid, theater officials previously said they would receive $7.2 million.
The theater partially collapsed during renovation work in early January, for causes not yet known. The collapse injured one person, closed High Street for several weeks and led to the demolition of two adjacent buildings.
The collapse pushed back the planned reopening of the theater to 2012, Van Embden said.
Van Embden, a member of the Levoy's board of directors, said neither the city nor the theater's other financial partners had questioned the financial viability of the theater, and that more information on the Levoy and its plans would be forthcoming in the next two weeks.
"We look forward to opening as soon as possible," he said.
While emergency work to secure the theater has subsided, some of its neighbors on High Street say the apparent lack of action at the fenced-off site is beginning to wear on them.
Scott Meyer runs Glasstown Art Glass, a company that he said has lost customers since the theater's collapse. He is considering moving his business to Vineland, Ocean City or an Atlantic City casino, because the closed-off sidewalk impedes needed pedestrian traffic.
Since the collapse, Meyer said, Bank of America closed its branch at the corner of Sassafras and High streets, and another gallery near the theater closed. He said other business owners are concerned, but don't want to make public comments and risk alienating their neighbors.
Members of Millville First, a local fiscal watchdog group, have criticized the use of taxpayer money to partially fund the Levoy restoration.
"It's kind of sad that it's going on month five and there's still a fence in the middle of the street," Meyer said. He said potential customers now cross High Street instead of patronizing his store, and he's angry.
"I got a big truck and a bunch of chains," he said. "I'm ready to move it and go to jail over it."
The slowdown has left his business nearly bankrupt, Meyer said, and he is now required to sell his crafts at weekend flea markets and art fairs to make ends meet.
"I didn't come back for this," Meyer said of the town in which he was raised. "I came back for a solid plan on a schedule."
Four months on, the Fath Department Store next to the ruins of the theater remains closed, with orange stickers warning the building is uninhabitable.
Andrew P. Van Hook, the store's acting president, said professional movers were able to move people out of all but three of the nine apartments in the building. Of the remainder, he said one couple was staying with nearby family and planned to eventually return to the Fath, while tenant of the other two apartments, closer to the Levoy, have had intermittent access to their belongings.
Van Hook said his building was repairable. "We have no reason to believe that this building would be torn down," he said.
He referred additional questions to William Opperman of Thunderbolt Investments, which is handling repair work.
Opperman said the Fath building repairs were directly linked to the Levoy's work schedule. As long as a portion of a brick wall remains standing on the south side of the building, Opperman said workers cannot use the connecting alley to make needed repairs to the Fath building. He said engineers, architects and insurance company attorneys are all prepared to move forward with the Fath building repairs once they can.
Millville officials stay they still support the theater as before as a way to promote business development downtown.
Mayor Tim Shannon said that although the city has not had contact with theater officials recently, the city remains committed to the theater's reconstruction.
"I haven't changed my thinking on the project. I'm still in support of it," he said.
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