Town Hall Theater to repair the former Diner for new uses

MIDDLEBURY — The former Diner restaurant at 66 Merchants Row in Middlebury is being sized up for repairs and will be available for short-term rental and/or Town Hall Theater functions as soon as this summer.
Mark Bradley, executive director of THT, shared the news during a tour of the former eatery space, perhaps best known during its lengthy run as Steve’s Park Diner. Town Hall Theater officials announced the purchase of the property, for $300,000, last April.
It was a strategic buy for THT, in that the former Diner is adjacent to the picturesque theater building at 68 S. Pleasant St. and thus provides the organization with future expansion options and storage space. Bradley said the long-term concept for the property is for The Diner building to be razed to make way for a proper THT addition. But short-term plans call for it to get basic interior upgrades so it can be put to a variety of uses, including pop-up events, brief retail ventures, workshop and/or office space, and to meet THT needs ranging from storage, set building, and performances for up to 50 people.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time bouncing around a lot of different ideas for that space,” Bradley said. “Flexibility is the number one priority for the renovations.”
Most of those renovations will be to the approximately 600 square feet of sit-down space at the front of the former restaurant building. Work will include eliminating current walls that demarcate the old vestibule and coffee service areas, which will create better access and a larger rectangular space.
Other upgrades will include more spacious restrooms and a movable refreshments bar, along with phone and internet service, according to Bradley.
The former kitchen area in back of the building will be relegated to storage, Bradley said. An old exhaust hood is the last culinary remnant in a kitchen in which meatloaf, omelets and other diner staples were whipped up for Middlebury’s hungry masses for decades and decades.
Fortunately, the old structure remains stable, according to Bradley. It weathered the winter in good shape except for a radiator pipe break that spewed water onto the floor, which has since been stabilized.
MARK BRADLEY STANDS outside the former Diner in Middlebury.
Independent photo/John McCright
Officials have yet to get an estimate for the renovations, but THT has adequate funds to cover them.
Bradley continues to seek ideas for use of the former Diner, which will be renamed when repairs are completed. He also wants to hear from prospective short-term tenants, who will provide THT with some welcome revenue and give shoppers an extra reason to come to Merchants Row during some trying months ahead. Work will resume this spring on a $72 million project to replace the Main Street and Merchants Row bridges over the railroad with a concrete tunnel. Construction will force downtown detours, noise and temporary loss of parking. It will also result in closure of Main Street and Merchants Row for 10 weeks during the summer of 2020. Theater officials are now building a financial cushion knowing THT won’t be able to host a steady slate of performances during the road closure.
“The rail bridges project was a real wakeup call,” Bradley said.
In other THT news, the organization has thus far raised around $1.5 million toward its $2.5 million goal to permanently endow its new “artistic director” position, and provide for ongoing maintenance of the historic theater building. Anyone interested in donating to the THT can do so through its website, townhalltheater.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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