St. Joseph’s iconic Trail Theater sits idle on 9th Street on Thursday evening. New owners will be purchasing the theater and plan on repurposing the building.

For years, people have been wondering what has been going on with the Trail Theater.

Since it was purchased by Winston Bennett and Kim Jennings in 2011, the answers were mostly promises, constantly shifting timelines and increasing disrepair. Its beautiful teal façade is more busted than ever. Empty light sockets hang from the entrance. It still has signs celebrating its 50th anniversary from 2001.

It’s such a battered gem of the city that a picture of it ended up trending on the subreddit site r/abandonedporn (A section of the social news aggregate site Reddit dedicated to architectural marvels that had become blights. It has nothing to do with adult entertainment) in January.

After a Shuffle column ruffled some feathers in August 2019, we got another promise that it would re-open. Finally, we have an answer and it’s one that’s encouraging — the Trail will return under new ownership.

On Feb. 23, it was announced that members of the Montee family, who helped turn around locations like the former Bad Art Bistro to successful business Mokaska Coffee, will take over the renovation and operations of the former one-screen theater.

While Trail Theater fans have been burned for the past decade, there’s reason to believe that this time it will be brought back properly. The Montees have a proven track record. Andy Montee, in particular, seems to be respectful of history while moving businesses like Mokaska forward.

The plans are similar to what Bennett and Jennings pitched: Montee plans on preserving the exterior as much as he can. The inside will be modified to be a multi-purpose space with movies and live performances playing roles in the business. They also hope to add a kitchen and a bar.

The hope is that the Trail Theater will open in early 2022. It’s an ambitious timeline for some lofty goals. But I’ll take any promised progress, no matter how far in the future it is, as long we’re actually seeing the work done.

Every day, I walk past the Trail Theater and think of what it could be, in an effort to avoid the depression of what it is in its current state. For the first time in years, I feel I can finally look at it with a sense of hope.

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Andrew Gaug can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug

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