- The theater, which was built in 1949, was acquired by San Juan County last year and underwent a million dollar renovation.
- The facility will be used for film screenings and live entertainment events.
- Its upper floors will be available for film and television industry representatives to rent for office space.
FARMINGTON – San Juan County took a major step towards making itself more attractive to filmmakers on June 24 when local government officials gathered at the downtown Totah Theater to show off the newly renovated structure.
The theater, which was built in 1949, was acquired by San Juan County last year and has undergone a million dollar renovation in recent months. The facility will be used for film screenings and live entertainment events, but its upper floors will be available for film and television industry representatives to rent for office space.
The theater will serve as the operating base for Totah Studios, a joint venture between the county and the town of Farmington, which will take over ownership of the building later this year.
Totah Studios will include the theater and a film and television backlot which is still in the planning stages.
Local government officials hope these properties will give the county a head start over other communities when it comes to attracting film and television projects to the area. They identified the increase in film and television production activity as an area through which the county could diversify its economy away from its historical dependence on the energy industry.
“I would just like to thank you for preserving this,” former owner Tom Taylor told county officials ahead of the June 24 groundbreaking ceremony that marked the completion of the renovations.
Taylor’s family owned the theater for many years before selling it to the county in March 2020 for $ 300,000. He told a crowd of several dozen people the history of the building, including two cats who made their home there, and described some of its distinguishing features.
“This building has a soul,” he said. “When you walk in here you feel it.”
The renovation of the theater did not drastically change its appearance, although most of the building’s public spaces were thoroughly cleaned and repainted, while the upstairs offices received new carpet. Most of the work has been done on the infrastructure of the building, since it received a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, in addition to new wiring, sprinklers, LED lighting, High-speed Internet access and works to make it Americans comply with the Disability Act.
County Commissioner John Beckstead thanked former County Commissioner Jack Fortner for encouraging the idea of raising money for the project, in the form of capital funding from the legislature.
Beckstead said Fortner was championing the idea “at a time when everyone was saying,” They won’t give you money for that. “”
Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett described additional improvements underway for the theater, including adding a new sound and projection system, renovating the washrooms and upholstering the seats in the auditorium.
He noted his personal connections to the building, describing how he attended a piano recital for his daughter and participated in his first political debate there.
“The Totah Theater is a special place,” he said.
County spokesman Devin Neeley, who also serves as the county film liaison, said a card key security system will be installed so that film or TV producers who rent the upstairs office have secure access 24 hours a day.
He said the process of handing over the building to the city will begin on July 6, when the county executes a waiver deed. Farmington Civic Center Supervisor Randy West will take over management of the facility and begin booking live events there.
Neeley said he had not yet been contacted by any film producer about renting office space at the theater. But he said representatives of half a dozen local groups had already contacted him, asking how to use the space for a special event.
“Just based on the interest of the community, we’re excited about what’s to come,” he said.
Neeley said officials hope to host a grand opening for the theater in the fall with performers of local and national renown.
He said county commissioners had participated in discussions with a film industry consultant about the best location for the planned backlot, which would be a multi-acre site where a permanent set would be built. The set would be designed to serve as a small Middle Eastern, Native American, or Spanish or Mexican community for films that feature such sets.
Neeley said the commissioners had three locations in mind for the backlot, all owned by the county – a site near Jackson Lake north of Farmington, the San Juan County industrial complex or Lions Park in Kirtland.
A design of the assembly has already been completed, Neeley said, but he had no estimate of how long it would take to build. He said he expected construction to begin this fall.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription.