Owner of gutted landmark wants to restore it as a theater

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:55

    FRANKLIN-In its heyday, the former Franklin Theater was a perfect host to live acting, and later, movies. The building's new owner, Domenick DiMinni, is examining the possibility of having a new movie theater in the building he plans to reconstruct and renovate. The former theater was largely a three-floor, six-unit apartment complex at the time a large fire caused heavy damage in the early morning hours of last Nov. 24. Those units had been constructed in front of the original theater shell and adjoined what had been the original theater lobby on either side. Now, DiMinni is exploring ways to restore the structure. "We can definitely salvage a couple of the exterior walls," said the Clifton-based building owner. "Part of the roof could also be saved. The theater suffered a lot of water damage so all the walls and things have to be replaced. The stage, too. "We'd like to put two small stores in the front and refurbish the (original) movie area because they said there's a market for that," DiMinni continued. "And for the rest, we'll put in a couple of apartments." DiMinni, who had purchased the building only shortly before the blaze occurred, said that sound proofing and fire retardant material in the inner walls of the theater shell suffered irreversible harm when the water damage from the efforts to extinguish the fire occurred. But DiMinni said all along his wish was to try to "refurbish what's there and not raze the building," an intent supported by Betty Allen, the Franklin Historical Society president. He said borough officials have cooperated with his plans, and that he is hopeful the project will move forward perhaps by late spring. "All the local officials have been gentlemen," DiMinni said. "They've been very helpful." The blaze is believed to have begun when a third-floor tenant, who had been behind in rent, was cooking French fries and temporarily left the building. Deemed as a "negligent" and not a deliberate act, no legal action has been taken against the former tenant to date, DiMinni said, but that remains an option. The building owner also expressed his appreciation to police and fire units for their "quick response." "They were able to put the fire out and without them, the building would have had to be demolished," DiMinni said. "And they deserve credit. I praise the fire department and the police department for their quick response." The building owner also said most of his former tenants have found new homes and that refunds are due to at least some of them, including security deposits.