Doug Beaty I didn’t talk to her for long when she called. Lucy Fleming must have been walking down Broad Street when she called me to tell me they were putting the new sign up at the State Theatre on Broad Street. She knows how excited I am about the renovation plans for this new building so Jared and I grabbed the video camera and my iphone to capture one of Kingsport’s signature venues as it takes on a brand new sign and we got a look behind the scenes of the most exciting developments in Downtown Kingsport.

They had blocked the streets off and a couple of cranes were teetering a brand new sign in the air, hoisting it on top of the awning of the building originally built in in the 1930s. When I moved to Kingsport in 1976, my folks dropped me and brother off while they closed the deal on our new home in Colonial Heights. I still remember watching “Midway” on the small theatre in our new hometown. Some thirty years later, the welders were moving the sign into place when Doug Beaty came out from behind one of the trucks. He told us the story of this new sign describing it as is “single most expensive item” he’s ever purchased ($60,000).

It was immaculate too. He found Wagner Electric Signs on the Internet and immediately knew they were the ones to craft the sign. Doug had a 1930s black and white photo showing the original State Theatre when elegant couples were lined up and down Broad Street to see ‘Gone with The Wind.’ What a night that was. I told Doug that I hope to see that again real soon.

Wagner signs have constructed plenty of the memorable displays on Broadway and all around the world. Doug had them construct the sign exactly like the original State Theatre sign and there were more than 8 large panels going up Tuesday afternoon. Everyone was stretching their necks around the roundabout too watching the old theatre come back to life after all these years.

Besides the movie theatre, I recall the State as a dinner theatre for a short time, a Christian Cinema movie theatre and later as a cheer leading academy. It’s broken staircase and crumbling brick structure were a bit sad though after decades of ill-fated attempts to run a business in this location, but it’s been the subject of plenty of conversations as Downtown Kingsport continues to watch a real renaissance.

I was really glad to meet Doug too. Jeff Lane has always spoken so highly about the Asheville entrepreneur. His new 12 Bones restaurant has terrific momentum and now they are shifting their focus now on the State Theatre and I couldn’t be more excited. That’s why we jumped at an opportunity for a tour to see where things are going next. After all, I mentioned to him that the new sign begs the next question…When he’s going to open?

There’s still a lot of work to do, although Doug contends that the new State Theatre will open in late Spring or early Summer 2008. He specifically states he’s not in the “restoration” business, but rather the “remodeling” business. He likes bringing buildings back to their original state with modern uses and it’s easy to tell this guy is excited about Kingsport and the events along the way, regarding this new building have been spooky, especially how things have fallen together.

There were only two shop lights on inside the old State Theatre. There were still a lot of dusty boards and clutter in the entryway, but just behind the old concession stand where two shop lights and that shed enough light for Doug to share some of his story.

In the center of the room on a small shop table were the original blueprints for the State Theatre. He mentioned they had found the old “scratch” blueprints in a room upstairs that was covered in pigeon poop. The way he described reminded him of a scene in a Stanley Kubrick film, a rustic old room with trophies and decades of dust and underneath the litter, the original print that is serving as his plans for the future.

As he pointed out the features along the wall, years of paint and neglect couldn’t hide the original design ideas for this opulent interior with a Mediterranean Garden style. The walls had Greek sculpture and arches similar to Roman aqueducts and the paint that was peeled back at the top of the ceiling reveled a deep lapis blue that was once the sky above patrons and there are even several star points that signified the Big Dipper and the North Star.

Beaty is investing in a vision to create a 550-seat auditorium and working toward a business plan that includes a schedule of events for every night of the week at this new Modern State Theatre. There’s a great stage, an angled floor, a balcony and easy access on all sides. It’s not hard for me to imagine a multi-media facility too and when I stood at the spot in the center of the stage, I couldn’t help but lust for a round of applause.

This is certainly not the beginning of downtown fever. That’s been going on for some time now and with this new sign, there will be plenty of “remember when stories” over the next few weeks as people recall the old State Theatre, fresh with its new sign. As new signs, new restaurants and a new spirit continues to gain momentum, I believe Downtown is at a tipping point of success. This new sign is another inspiring work of art too and I can’t wait to see it glow and more importantly, I can’t wait to see that old picture in the 30s come alive in the 21st century as the State Theatre looks forward to a 2008 Grand Reopening Night.