Among the many colorfully-wrought buildings that comprise Ottawa’s Main Street stands the Plaza Cinema, a movie theater that claims the dual distinctions of “oldest operating cinema in America,” and “oldest purpose-built cinema in operation.”
And now, that piece of world history is up for sale.
Wednesday, Scott Zaremba was announced as the sole owner and proprietor of the theater. Zaremba is a local businessman involved in several regional ventures, most recently the sale and restoration of The Historic Post Office, a former Federal Post Office-turned-event-venue in Ottawa.
According to Zaremba, business will continue as usual at the theater in this time of transition.
“We’re not changing anything drastically,” he said Friday. “We’re hoping to bring more current and relevant entertainment, and to bring more diverse entertainment to the theater. That’s what we’re working on right now. With that designation of being the oldest operating purpose-built cinema in the world, we hope that will draw out more people and give us an opportunity to expand our entertainment venue.”
Realty Executives of Kansas City have been hired to broker the sale of the theater, Zaremba said.
“Our strategy is to feature this exceptional and unique property, not only for Ottawa and Franklin County, but nationally, having been featured in magazines, newspapers and books,” said Jonathan Cutler, who is leading the brokerage. “Notably how they’ve maintained the 1907 historic character and exterior facade.”
While it’s difficult to say how long the brokerage will take for historic properties like the Plaza Cinema, Zaremba is committed to the process, he said.
“It’s different for every time, but we’re in it for the long haul, to make sure that we find the right people to move it forward as we continue to move it forward, because we’re not stopping with what we are doing now,” he said. “We are going to start progressing forward with trying to make that facility what it is, which is a landmark — not only in the community, but in the state, the U.S. and the world.”
The process will likely resemble the sale and restoration of The Historic Post Office, Zaremba said.
“There was a group of us that bought the post office next door,” he said. “We were able to find someone that had the same vision we did with the post office, and were able to take that and run with it, and made a beautiful facility. They’ve done a great job with that. We’re so happy with what the people who purchased it have done with it — talk about an improvement in the community. So we are looking at the same thing with the theater.”
As a longtime resident of the area, Zaremba takes personal interest in historic properties like the Plaza Cinema, he said.
“I’ve been in the community more than 25 years with various businesses in the community, and I live between Lawrence and Ottawa,” he said. “And so I’ve always been drawn to historic buildings, and the reason I got involved five years ago in the theater, was to make sure that we could hold on to it, and make sure that it stayed a viable property inside the community.
“I’ve always been drawn to keep up these historic properties, and older properties, because they have such unique character, and they hold such a unique place in the community.”