When the pandemic forced the closure of El Campo’s beloved Showplace 3 movie theater, some people might have expected the ‘80s-era building to be torn down.
Instead, local pastor Michael Smith was inspired to salvage the building on El Campo’s West Loop and transform it into a new home for his nondenominational church, Grace Point Community Church. Two of the theaters will be combined into a 300-seat sanctuary, and one of the old movie screens will be used to display scripture, hymn lyrics and Christian films.
It took a longtime fan of the movies with an outside-the-box perspective to find a new life for the Showplace. In doing so, Smith is not only preserving a building — he is preserving part of El Campo’s heritage.
Torin Bales, longtime former owner of Torin Bales Fine Jewelry in Victoria, has long had an eye for similar projects in Victoria’s downtown. Most recently, he transformed a decrepit cinderblock building on Juan Linn Street that used to house Taste-E-Burger into the HarCo at Home boutique, which opened in May.
Bales’ past projects include the building on Santa Rosa Street that Moonshine Drinkery now calls home, the Edward Jones office on William Street and a Main Street building that until recently housed Soiree, a 250-person events venue. He is currently working on restoring another Main Street building which he said could be turned into a toy store or even a microbrewery.
These restorations help drive commerce while maintaining the special character of Victoria’s downtown, which is beloved by many locals and serves as the face of the city for many out-of-town visitors.
“The downtown is an asset of its own,” Bales said. “We’ve got to preserve what we can.”
Restoring old buildings comes with a variety of challenges, including conforming with modern standards for electricity, plumbing, air conditioning and fire safety, which can be costly. But Bales praised Danielle Williams, executive director of Victoria’s Main Street Program, for her efforts to help the downtown grow.
In February, the city began accepting applications for its new Downtown Facade Grant Program, which provides up to $10,000 in 50/50 matching funds for developers to make exterior improvements. Williams said seven buildings were selected to receive funding this year, including Fossati’s Delicatessen, which got a new roof, the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts and the old Frels Theater on Constitution Street, which is in the midst of a major facelift that will restore its original facade.
All funds have been exhausted for this year, but Williams is looking to expand the program in 2022, including by opening the door to funding for interior renovations.
“New development is tricky in a downtown because you don’t have raw land to develop off of,” Williams said. “In an effort to keep the buildings fresh with tenants so it’s not just a vacant storefront, we want to offer this public-private partnership.”
We are thrilled to see Williams and the city working to support developers who, like Smith and Bales, might have a creative idea to turn an old building into something completely new.
This is the ingenuity Victoria, El Campo and other local cities and towns need to keep growing — while staying true to their past.
This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.