Louis Salomonsky Plans for Samis Grotto and a Historic District

by Charles McGuigan

It was just about four months ago that developer Louis Salomonsky purchased a home on Westminster Avenue in Bellevue, and he’s already busy with plans for preservation of the old Bellevue Theatre on MacArthur Avenue. He also envisions a historic district for the neighborhood.

“The most important objective is to do something with the Bellevue Theatre,” he told me recently. Seated with us was Bill Thomas, active trustee for Samis Grotto, which owns the Bellevue Theatre. He was also a monarch of the masonic-affiliated organization. “Bill wants to see the theatre’s old glory brought back.,” said Louis. “He has personally raised monies to do some significant renovations. He’s enthralled with the idea, and I’ve agreed to volunteer my brainpower to help make it happen.”

According to Louis, their joint vision includes creating a plaza-like setting in front of the old theatre. “Potentially it would have umbrellas and seating areas, and would become kind of the town square of Bellevue,” Louis said. “It would be a pleasant place to go and sit down and enjoy life.”

At this point, neither Louis nor Bill is quite sure exactly what the theatre would be used for.  “In a perfect world it would continue to be some place of assembly,” Louis suggested. “Perhaps, having weekends with theatre performances, live theatre or film. There’s no reason why banquets or wedding parties couldn’t be held there.”

This project will be financially feasible only if there are historic tax credits, and both Louis and Bill don’t think the old theater will qualify as an historic structure.

“Bill and I have learned it would be virtually impossible to get the theatre to be designated an historic building in its own independent right,” Louis said.

Which is why Louis is proposing that Bellevue become an historic district. “We could bootstrap the theatre into eligibility for historical renovation if it’s part of a neighborhood with the historic status,” said Louis. “The greater Bellevue neighborhood has been previously deemed as a cohesive neighborhood in its own right. Recently, the Department of Historic Resources met with the two of us and has agreed that perhaps Bellevue could be subdivided into five neighborhoods. And the theatre would be in the neighborhood titled Chevy Chase which basically is the area behind it. It costs a lot of money to survey every single home in the neighborhood. Somehow or another we try to find the monies to survey a neighborhood at a time and we would make the first one to be surveyed the Chevy Chase one and then, Eureka, the theater would fall into that district the and it’s possible that by next spring construction and renovation could start and we would qualify for historic tax credits.”

Louis is careful to point out he would be looking for either a state or federal historic designation.  “If it’s a city of Richmond historic district, I consider that a painful process,” he said. “They do a good job but they’re very orthodox. If you get into a federal or state district the requirements are minimal and reasonable. They find ways to make things work, and the good news is that many of the buildings in Bellevue that need renovation badly can get tax credits based on the renovations and then we stand a better chance of preserving what we have right now.”

Bill Thomas wants to ensure that the Bellevue Theatre is preserved. “With Louis’s guidance the whole city of Richmond will be proud of,” he said. “And I think it’s a key to the redevelopment of the area and it’s going to help upgrade and stabilize everything on MacArthur Avenue. We want to share it with the public.  The MacArthur merchants have been supportive of us and we’ve tried to be very supportive of them, and we’re going to continue to be there for the neighborhood.”

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