“Sustainability” Takes on New Meaning at Cultural Center
The Wyoming County Cultural Center in Tunkhannock is much more than a movie theater. While the Dietrich Theater at its core continues to make memories for families, friends and those enjoying “date nights,” the iconic building near the center of the county seat has evolved into a hub for arts and education for residents of all ages. In an average year, more than 80,000 people walk through the doors of the Dietrich Theater.
The Cultural Center has a unique past and executive director Erica Rogler is proud to tell it. The Dietrich Theater was opened in 1937 by George Dietrich, and it thrived into the 1980s, Rogler explains. In the late 1980’s, however, the Dietrich Theater ran into some trouble. The theater could no longer compete with the newer mall movie theaters popping up throughout the region. To everyone’s dismay, the Dietrich Theater closed its doors and later suffered structural damages, from a massive flood, to add to its turmoil.
Then, in 1998, a group of local residents worked to bring the Dietrich Theater back to working order and reopen it for the Tunkhannock community. After tireless fundraising, the team successfully raised enough money for the refurbishment of the theater with some additional upgrades.
“The town wanted the Dietrich back. They missed it,” Rogler says of the decade without a theater. A non-profit group formed with the sole purpose of resurrecting the theater. “After three years of fundraising and renovation, they reopened the Dietrich Theater in 2001.”
Subsequent expansions increased the number of screens from two to four by 2009. Its success was felt throughout Tunkhannock, with patrons coming in from the surrounding counties to dine in local restaurants and do some shopping or site-seeing in addition to taking in a show. Offerings at the Cultural Center range from first-run blockbusters and seasonal film festivals to open-mic nights and musical events.
The Dietrich Struggles, but Comes Out Stronger
Tunkhannock has seen its share of historic floods but nothing like the deluge of September 2011. As streams throughout the area burst from their banks, Cultural Center board members and other volunteers rushed downtown to help dismantle the seats in the Evans Theater, the oldest and lowest part of the building. They were moved to the lobby, which had never flooded before. But that day, it did. The water continued to rise to the intersection of Bridge and Tioga streets, completely surrounding the Culture Center to the horror of onlookers. Business owners and individuals responded to the needs of the theater by providing labor and materials for the needed cleanup and repairs.
“We decided that we needed to guarantee the Dietrich’s future for generations to come,” Rogler remarks. In addition for a need to move the HVAC system to the roof, movies went digital, and the Dietrich had to follow the technological advances to survive. “We needed to retire $335,000 in debt to free up about $32,000 a year in cash flow to allow us to endure difficult movie seasons.”
Thus marked the beginning of a massive Sustainability Campaign for the Wyoming County Cultural Center. Remarkably, the benchmark was reached in about 18 months. “We received a rapid and positive response from the community, businesses, foundations and individuals,” Rogler recalls. Contributions soon topped $340,000, in part, by crucial fundraising efforts by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.
“What a great resource in Tunkhannock,” Cabot’s External Affairs Manager, Bill DesRosiers said, recognizing the theater’s impact as an economic driver in the community, adding that “signing on to the sustainability campaign was a no-brainer.”
“So many of our employees and landowners go to Tunkhannock not just for movies but all of the classes and speakers brought in, that it just makes so much sense to be involved with this, and we are expecting to talk to other businesses involved in the Marcellus play,” he adds.
Cabot’s financial support, Rogler reasons, was a natural extension of the dedicated patronage of the company’s employees, who had been coming to the theater for many years. “It means much more to them than just supporting a community landmark,” Rogler says of Cabot. “They have shown us that they are here to stay and want to support us in the long run.”
The Wyoming County Cultural Center is slated to celebrate its successful Sustainability Campaign with Cabot Oil & Gas and other key contributors on Aug. 15. A reception starting at 5 pm will be followed with a free screening at 7 pm of “Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The same film will be shown to the public at no cost at 1 pm, compliments of Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.