New lease on life for Marion Theatre

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted July 9, 2021 | By Susan Smiley-Height, Ocala Gazette

[Bruce Ackerman/OG]

The Ocala City Council on July 6, approved a request for an amendment to the lease agreement for the Marion Theatre, giving the Reilly Arts Center LLC (RAC) a five-year extension to its short-term lease, with one five-year renewal period.

The City of Ocala owns the theater. It was constructed in 1941 and was donated to the city in 1986. There have been various management operations at the theater over the years. The last operators were Cesar and Carmen Soto who took over the theater in 2012 from Carmike Cinemas. The Sotos asked the city to end their lease early last June due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The RAC began operating the theater on a short-term lease basis in September.

“The five-year lease gives the Reilly team an opportunity to continue investing in the Marion Theatre,” said Pamela Calero Wardell, executive director of the Reilly Arts Center. “Our goal is to keep building and expanding programming, reach new audiences and engage our downtown and community partners.”

Matt Wardell is the Reilly’s CEO and artistic director, and maestro of the Ocala Symphony Orchestra, which is based at the Reilly. Wardell, who is also a city councilman, recused himself from the vote to approve the contract. The council voted 4-0 to approve.

“If I could have handpicked the people to carry on the rich tradition of our beloved Marion Theatre it would have been Matt and Pamela Wardell,” said Buddy Martin, who led an effort in 2011 to “Save the Marion Theatre,” which convinced the city to continue operating the facility as a movie theater.

“They not only have skin in the game day, but a heartbeat in the community. They have done one of the finest jobs in America of preserving, presenting and promoting live theater, music and the arts for small-to-medium communities. Marion County owes them a debt of gratitude. Yes, the Marion is in good hands for the foreseeable future. And I wish them all great success.”

Under the RAC, theater offerings have included a wide variety of film genre showings, a summer series for children and special Classics and Cocktails events. Coming up on Aug. 6 is a live performance of Steeln’ Peaches – An Allman Brothers Revue.

According to the city council report outlining the lease amendment:

The city will continue to cover the utility costs during the first five years with an option to continue in the renewal period.

There will be no change in the rent, which is $1 per month.

The equipment list will be updated to show, for example, that the RAC purchased a new upstairs projector and made significant upgrades to the lighting and sound systems.

If needed in the future, the city will pay up to $40,000 during the five-year lease for a new downstairs projector and two movie screens.

If the city constructs a pocket park in the theatre parking lot, the tenant shall have the exclusive right to use the park to sell concessions, including alcohol, and to retain all revenues.

The city council report noted in its findings that the “Marion Theatre is still a key component in the growth of downtown, especially the South Magnolia corridor.”

“Downtown Ocala continues to grow and the Reilly Arts Center board and staff are excited to be a part of that growth,” Calero Wardell said Wednesday.

To learn more about the theater, including information about upcoming movies and special events, go to

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