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There's a running joke with some of the people who work downtown. Whenever a big truck rolls down H Street near Ocean, they say they look out the window to see if the Lompoc Theatre marquee has fallen off.

But if you ask me, that theater is going to have the last laugh.

In exploring the issue, I've found that restoring the Lompoc Theatre has three things going for it — opportunity, feasibility and necessity.

You don't have to squint to see the potential for that building. After it first opened in 1927, the theater was the cultural hub of downtown Lompoc for decades. Given its prime location in the heart of downtown, a restored Lompoc Theatre would attract foot traffic, give businesses and restaurants an incentive to stay open late, and provide a new avenue for tourist dollars to come into town. The theater would also provide a unique service for Lompoc residents, as the city's only major venue for the performing arts.

Perhaps most importantly, a restored Lompoc Theatre can help us build a sense of community. In a town filled with commuters — like myself, who has to go off somewhere else to earn a living — a theater buzzing with concerts, plays, films and lectures gives us a place to simply sit down, spend the evening with our community, and enjoy being in Lompoc.

Unfortunately, this city has been lured before with big promises for the theater from the theater's current owner, the scandal-ridden LHCDC. Promises and potential don't fix the holes in the theater's roof by themselves.

Fortunately, with the right management and dedication, restoring a theater in a small, semi-rural town is feasible. In fact, it's been done, in Visalia and dozens of other cities and towns from across the country.

Finally, restoring the theater is the best option for Lompoc in part because we don't have any others. Those who propose tearing the theater down are maybe forgetting that demolishing the theater would cost an estimated $800,000, and then what? The lot next door has been vacant for decades. The next developer I see waiting to knock down the theater and build a mini-mall in its place will be the first.

Lompoc cannot afford to create another empty lot in the heart of our downtown with no plan to fill it. Neither can we sit and wait while the theater continues to crumble — and the city's $225,000 bill from HUD comes due.

Restoring the Lompoc Theatre is the best and only choice for a renewed, vibrant downtown.

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City officials seemed to take this message to heart a few weeks ago when they took steps to resolve the liens on the Lompoc Theater property and negotiate its transfer to the Lompoc Theatre Project (LTP), which is a group of local volunteers and business owners who have recently created a nonprofit to take control of the theater and raise funds for its restoration.

I'm proud to say I'm one of those people. We're just getting started on our mission, and we have no illusions about how hard the task will be.

However, we believe in the promise of a restored Lompoc Theatre, and the possibility the commitment and determination of the people of Lompoc can make it happen. This project is no joke.

If you would like to contribute your time, skills or anything else to the Lompoc Theatre Project, please sign up at Howlin' Byroon's Music Exchange, or look up our page on Facebook. You'll be hearing more from LTP soon.

Steve Stormoen is a member of the Lompoc Theater Project, The Forward View is a progressive look at local issues that runs on Thursdays. For information, call 736-1897, or email howerton62@aol.com.

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