Owner plans public park on vacant lot behind Rio Theater

Sean C. Morgan

When Rio Theater owner Thomas Baham is finished with it, Long Street will have a private park area where the public is invited to stop, eat and hang out – one of two projects under way at the Rio.

The property is located to the southeast of the Rio Theater building next to the two Wells Fargo parking lots.

“We’re putting in benches and chairs, picnic tables, trees for shade,” Baham said. “That’s going to be a little park. It’s for eating and hanging out.”

The area will be under surveillance to help prevent unwanted behavior, he said.

“It was ugly,” Baham said of the property. “It’s been an eyesore for 20 years. We’re just making it look better.”

The property was covered in bushes and tall grass frequently.

“We put a bid on it,” Baham said. “I didn’t expect to get it, but they took it. It was something to make this part of town look better.”

He said he was surprised at how large the property was after cutting down the bushes, he said, and he sees a lot of potential for the land.

Since purchasing the property, he brought in 50 yards of fill, with Mike Melcher donating eight truckloads of topsoil. He planted three different kinds of maples and has requested an October glory maple from the Sweet Home Tree Commission.

During the fall, the October glory will turn about seven different shades of red, Baham said. He initially planned to plant just three trees when he was designing the property. “They say” trees should be planted in odd numbers, but he didn’t like the way it balanced out and decided to plant a fourth.

“Give them another couple of years and they’ll be absolutely gorgeous,” Baham said.

The park has three circular concrete slabs installed to take concrete tables donated by the Sweet Home Beautification Committee.

The tables will be hard to damage, he said. They’re easy to clean, and they’re permanent.

Baham plans to plant grass and finish the project in the spring, he said.

During the summer, Baham hired Steve Nunez to help spruce up the back of the Rio Theater building after seeing his work on the Full Gospel Church, 1314 Long St.

“To me it looked like an IRS building,” Baham said, of The Rio’s previous appearance. Adding the design on the back of the building helped break it up visually.

On the theater itself, Baham is working to add a second screen after buying the attached building, where Deb Cooley had owned and operated a beauty salon.

“We’ve got the engineering done,” Baham said. “The plans are submitted to the city.”

With lower attendance to movies this year compared to last, it’s taking longer than he had hoped. He had hoped to have the exterior of the building finished this year so he could work on the interior during the winter.

At this point, his goal is to complete the project by December 2019, but the timing depends on audiences.

“If they keep coming in, that’s what pays the bills,” Baham said. That’s what paid for all of the improvements over the past couple of years.

Baham intends to increase the height of the building to match the main Rio Theater structure. The floor will be below grade, allowing room for a second screen and 50 reclining seats.

“It’s going to be a dinner theater, more of a VIP room,” Baham said. The seating will be stadium style instead of sloped like the main screen.

Initially, food will be catered by local businesses, Baham said, and beer will be available.

“We’ll be able to bring in more movies,” he said. That will solve a lot of scheduling problems, like when the new “Star Wars” movie is released in December. “Jumanji” will be released at the same time, and Baham believes it will do well too.

He can only run one, and that will be “Star Wars.” After a four-week run of “Star Wars,” he’ll be able to run “Jumanji.” With two screens, he could open both movies.

Baham plans to add a new 4K ultra-high definition projector, the largest single expense in the process, he said. He may use the new 4K projector in the main theater and move the existing projector to the smaller theater.

“We’ll be the only one in Ore-gon. Nobody else has a 4K yet.”