Group raises $115,000 to save the historic Bonnie Kate

Bonnie Kate Theater has been purchased by the City of Elizabethton with help from the Eiiz/Carter County Community Foundation.

ELIZABETHTON, TN (WJHL) -Right now, a once lively landmark in downtown Elizabethton sits vacant. But one group has raised $1150,000 to bring the historic Bonnie Kate theater back to life.

For decades, this building was filled with theater performances, movies, and events.

Elizabethton’s archivist says keeping the Bonnie Kate alive will preserve a piece of history, while moving the city forward.

“There is very little about the Bonnie Kate that isn’t historical,” City of Elizabethton archivist Joseph Penza said.

Here in Elizabethton, this building holds nearly 100 years of memories.

“Whether you went there for musical performances, went there for movies, went there when it was a clothing store, everybody has these memories, and they want the next generation to have those similar memories, at that same place, in that same building,” Penza said.

Back in April this historical building went up for auction, but all the bids came up short. So right now, this once booming downtown spot, sits quietly, awaiting its fate.

“Obviously a staple of our downtown, we found it was very important for the community to hold on to that part of their history,” Kris Yarlett, president of the Elizabethton/Carter County Community Foundation said.

That foundation has spent the last six months raising money to buy the Bonnie Kate. At the auction its bid didn’t cut it, but now the foundation says it’s raised enough to buy it.

“We will buy it and immediately give it to the city, we are buying it for the city. Beyond that, we have a pretty grandiose vision in terms of what we would like to see in the Bonnie Kate,” Yarlett said.

Yarlett said after the foundation buys the property it plans to start raising money for restoration.

“We want to restore it back to what its original intent was which is theater, event place, getting a restaurant back in there, making it a self sufficient operation,” Yarlett said.

He said it will be a long, expensive process, but with the continued support of the community it will happen.

‘What’s been behind a lot of the support we’ve gotten is there’s just so many memories there and there’s no reason why we should let go of that as a community,” Yarlett said.

“In the end I think we’re going to see an amazing cultural resource for the community that’s going to get saved,” Penza said.

Penza said he is happy to see a vision that preserves this key landmark.

“It’s very easy to see something from the Civil War and say that’s historic and that should be preserved. It’s a lot harder to see something from the ’20s and say that’s just as significant, but that period of American history with the roaring ’20s, the big booms, the construction of all these theaters, it’s a period unlike any other and we should remember it,” Penza said.

The Elizabethton/ Carter County Community Foundation has drafted an agreement between the foundation and the city. The Elizabethton city council is set to vote on that agreement at its next meeting.

The foundation is sponsoring a golf tournament in June to help raise money to restore the Bonnie Kate. You can find out how to sign up here.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

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