New Mexico Historic Theaters Initiative

The New Mexico Historic Theaters Initiative is part of an ongoing statewide effort led by the Economic Development Department and New Mexico MainStreet to rehabilitate historic theaters and install new digital projection and sound equipment to prevent them from “going dark.”

Nationwide, many small town theaters have closed their doors because of the high cost of digital projection equipment. Besides loss of a business anchor in downtown districts, the loss of an entertainment venue has negative impacts on quality of life, retail leakage and community morale.

The Economic Development Department recognized the potential negative impact and challenged New Mexico MainStreet and the Finance Development Team to develop a unique partnership to restore historic theaters and reinvest in the new digital media upgrades. Working with municipal partners the department uses the state’s Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) and other programs to restore these treasures from the golden age of movies. Other contributors to the initiative are the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division (HPD) and the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning.

Preserving historic theaters has immediate and long-term economic and cultural benefits. According to Ken Stein, President of the League of Historic American Theaters, a single historic theater in a small city (Population less than 50k) has the potential to sustain 27 full-time equivalent jobs; create $950,000 in total expenditures; generate $84,000 in revenue for state and local governments; and add $568,000 to household incomes (

Since January 2013, the Economic Development Department has provided grants to eight classic theaters throughout New Mexico. They include

Each historic theater has been identified as a catalytic economic driver for their respective community.

The New Mexico MainStreet program provides technical assistance to affiliated community programs to assess their theaters, develop architectural plans and cost estimates for rehabilitation projects, advice on operations and business plans, programming and industry contacts, and hosts an annual New Mexico MainStreet Historic Theaters Institute.

New Mexico MainStreet hosted the first ever “New Mexico MainStreet Historic Theaters Institute” at the Shuler Theater in Raton in June 2015, to help communities and theater operators breathe new life into aging stages and auditoriums. The Institute featured workshops on new trends in cinema; digital conversion; fostering local community theater programs; and innovative operating strategies, including fundraising and programming for the cinema and theater business. There were more than 50 owners, operators, programmers, and advocates for New Mexico’s Historic Theaters in attendance representing nine different communities throughout the state.

For more information about the New Mexico Historic Theaters Initiative, please contact Daniel Gutierrez, MainStreet Director, (505) 629-5270 or