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A Leitchfield, Ky. couple is breathing new life into a downtown historic hotel and theater

An empty Alice Theater in Leitchfield's Public Square undergoing renovation work on Oct. 20, 2022.
Stephanie Wolf
/
Louisville Public Media
An empty Alice Theater in Leitchfield's Public Square undergoing renovation work on Oct. 20, 2022.

The Alexander Hotel and adjacent Alice Theater were once a bright spot in the public square of Leitchfield, Ky. 

Mandi McKinzie remembered coming to the theater with friends when she was a teenager.

“This is where we all came to see movies,” she said. “I watched ‘ET’ in here, ‘Star Wars.’”

But the theater shuttered decades ago, followed later by the hotel and its restaurant. Despite multiple ventures to resuscitate or demolish the property, it sat empty for years. Leitchfield paper Messenger-Inquirer reported that utility usage indicates the hotel and theater have been vacant since at least early 2013.

Then McKinzie and her husband, Robert, purchased the property last year, intent on turning it into an event space, restaurant and short-term rentals. 

The couple, who run a nonprofit and co-own two local coffee shops, had eyed the building for years, weighing what it would take to restore it. 

“It's been such an eyesore of our community for so long,” McKinzie said.

They put the idea out of their heads though, initially because the work seemed untenable – there was so much to do, said McKinzie, given that a previous owner had auctioned off much of the building’s removable parts and framings, including doors and windows. 

There was also an attempt to sell stocks in the theater and hotel, an opportunity the McKinzies had jumped on, but the effort ultimately failed. 

“We were just like, ‘Well it's just out of the cards for us,’” she said.  

Then she went to a Sunday church service.

“I was praying, and God just spoke and was like, ‘You're supposed to do that building and you're supposed to do it for the community,’” McKinzie said.

Her husband had a similar feeling during worship, and in September 2021, they became the new owners of the Alexander Hotel and Alice Theater

The former movie theater will be renovated into an event center, McKinzie said. She’d like to see local school drama clubs get use out of the small stage, and can envision live music, comedy or personal milestones like weddings and birthday parties happening in the space. The old hotel rooms will be transformed into short-term rentals, and a fine-dining Italian restaurant will go in downstairs. 

“It’s gonna mean a whole lot to our downtown,” said Leitchfield Mayor Richard Embry, who has long advocated for the rehabilitation of the hotel.  

Embry told WFPL News the work being done at the Alexander Hotel and Alice Theater are “part of the puzzle” in bringing more business and residents, especially younger ones, to Leitchfield’s Public Square. He thinks providing more local entertainment and hospitality will generate jobs and tourism, and provide services he believes residents are hungry for. 

“I think just meeting a demand which a community's wanting,” Embry said. 

The McKinzies have been documenting much of the restoration work on Facebook

Community members have offered words of encouragement online.

“I’m so excited to see the awesome outcome of this renovation,” one commenter posted. “Love that this building is being renovated and wasn’t torn down!”

“This makes me happy,” another person posted in response to a summer update on the construction.

The structure itself also includes messages of support, written by hand onto the 2x4 studs upstairs – bible scripture in permanent marker plus well wishes to the McKinzies, letting them know, “God is with you all the way.”

As the drywall goes up, the personal notes will remain and become embedded into the building.

McKinzie feels invigorated by all of the efforts to restore business on the public square. The pandemic made that more true for her.

“I guess because everybody was cooped up, we just missed fellowshipping and that type of thing,” she said. “For me, my family and friends, it just taught us to love harder, love deeper, like don’t take things for granted.”

As for the hotel and theater specifically, McKinzie said they had anticipated the project being around $500,000. It’s ballooned to approximately $1.3 million.

“But it will be worth it,” she said.

She hopes to be open for business as early as next summer. 

Stephanie Wolf is LPM's Arts & Culture Reporter. Email Stephanie at swolf@lpm.org.