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'Big dreams': Owner of historic Grand Rapids theater to start fundraising soon

The Four Star Theater was built in 1938 on Division Avenue, but hasn't been used in more than a decade. That could soon change.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A musty smell is the first thing that hits you when you step inside the old Four Star Theater. The walls are peeling. There is plaster all over the floor. It's a hot summer day and without air conditioning the sweat begins to bead up on Marcus Ringnalda's face. You'd think he'd be uncomfortable, but as the owner of this building, he seems to be right at home.

"I’m kind of a historic preservationist and have a lot of experience renovating old, cool buildings. So my dream is to build a world class space with that marquee lit up," he said.

Ringnalda purchased the Four Star Theater in 2017. It needed a lot of work, but he says the bones of the building are good. All the theater needed was a vision.

"I won’t lie to you, I didn’t really have plans when I got this, but how this has gone, the neighbors I’ve met and planning the mission of what this space is going to become, I feel like it’s my life’s mission," Ringnalda said.

The theater has had a number of uses over the years, including a concert venue that has hosted the likes of Hank Williams Jr., Joan Jett and Devo. Ringnalda wants this to be a place where people can gather again, and he says people in the Burton Heights neighborhood want that too.

Credit: Facebook/Four Star Theater
Four Star Theater historic photo

"What this community wants is more events, spaces for more events. Garfield Park is right down the road, but it’s limited to summertime and warm weather activities, so through 2018 and 2019 I was really just listening to people about what’s going to work here," he said.

Then, when Ringnalda was about to get to work, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and progress slowed down just like it has for so many people around the world. But one thing he has accomplished is making Friends of Four Star a 501C3 nonprofit organization.

"We have started fundraising amongst friends and family and we’re trying to formalize the details of our campaign. We have really big ideas, big dreams for this space," he said.

Credit: 13 ON YOUR SIDE/Matt Gard
Interior of the Four Star Theater on Division Avenue South in Grand Rapids as of August 9, 2021.

"We expect to be kind of public facing with our campaign at the beginning of 2022 and then throughout all of next year we plan to finalize the campaign and hopefully break ground sometime in 2023."

Some work, though, has already started. This week, artists Devante Barnes and Edwin Morales got to work on a mural that will soon hang on the north side of the building as part of an effort backed by the South Division-Grandville Corridor Improvement Authority.

"I’ve seen this building growing up and never really knew what was inside of it and I was like, oh this is super sick," Barnes said.

"I typically do digital, smaller based stuff so this is a very big project to grasp, especially for a first big project, so it's a very large scale project and I'm excited."

Mural video:

Once the mural is finished, Barnes and Morales say it's supposed to be reflective of both the past of the building and its future, along with the community surrounding the theater. It's work they're proud to be doing.

"There's a certain feeling you get when you see something big and you had a part to play in it," Morales said. "I get to be a part of something that's for the community itself and I'm very proud not only for myself but for everyone who's on board with this project."

Ringnaldi says he's excited to spearhead a project he hopes will lift up the South Division-Grandville Corridor and the Burton Heights neighborhood.

"This place and me came together for a really good reason. This is what I was put on this earth to do," he said.

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