Council to consider selling former Calhoun Theater in downtown Anniston

Tim Lockette, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·3 min read

Apr. 19—The Anniston City Council on Tuesday will consider selling the Calhoun Theater, once a Noble Street landmark, to a Birmingham developer for $7,000.

Matthew Fanaei, whose business, Fanaei Investments, is known for developing sites in downtown Birmingham, approached the council at a work session earlier this month to express his interest in buying the building.

"I've been looking at Anniston, and at everything that Main Street has been doing, and it interests me," Fanaei said in a brief appearance at the council's April 6 work session. "The buildings are beautiful."

The Calhoun Theater opened in the 1200 block of Noble Street in 1942, at a time when soldiers swelled the city's population and staying home to watch TV wasn't an option. It stayed in business until 1983. Contemporary observers blamed its demise on the rise of HBO and of larger movie venues with more screens.

The building is now city property, and it's an occasional cause of concern for city officials. Damage to the roof has rendered the building unusable as a meeting place, at least until repairs are made.

In 2019, the downtown development organization Main Street Anniston recruited volunteers to spruce up the building's exterior, pulling down vines and putting up classic film posters to make the site seem still alive. Ads for "Jaws" and "Chinatown" still grace the front of the building, under the words "Coming Soon."

City officials at that time were mulling the idea of the site as an eventual open-air amphitheater, with walls but no roof. In Roanoke, the Rotary Club did a similar conversion with the Martin Theater, but at a cost of nearly $300,000.

Exactly what Fanaei plans to do with the Calhoun site isn't clear. The developer spoke only briefly at the April 6 meeting, and multiple attempts to reach him since then have been unsuccessful.

"I don't know that they've given us an idea of what they want to do other than turning it into an entertainment venue," said City Councilman Jay Jenkins. He said the idea of the theater as an event site has been around at least since the time his predecessor, John Spain, was on the council a decade ago.

It's unclear whether Fanaei Investments would operate an entertainment venue at the site or fix up the site and sell it to someone else for that purpose.

"He's the type to come in, buy a building, bring it up to code and then find a buyer for it," said city spokesman Jackson Hodges.

Accounts in Birmingham Business Journal and other news outlets show Fanaei buying multiple locations in Birmingham — most notably the Liberty Overalls building — then converting them to multi-use sites and reselling them.

City officials are expecting more interest in downtown sites as workers continue construction on a new federal courthouse on Gurnee Avenue. When complete, the courthouse is expected to bring more people to Noble and surrounding streets.

"We've said from day one that this courthouse is going to be a game changer for Anniston," Jenkins said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.