Since its conversion to a nonprofit theater in 2002, the Loft Cinema has prided itself on making the most of minimal resources.

Now it's thinking bigger, asking for big money and making big plans.

The vision: A three-theater cineplex, as well as a back patio with a projection screen for movies under the stars. Movies will run longer to better find an audience, bathrooms and the upstairs theater will be wheelchair-accessible, and the complex will be able to host multiple events simultaneously.

It's a dream that's a long time in coming for the theater's management.

"It is a huge move forward," said the East Speedway theater's Executive Director Peggy Johnson. "We're really feeling like we're ready for it. We do so much with two screens, and it's so exciting to have another screen, a bigger lobby and accessible restrooms. We've been really cramped for space, and we're really excited."

The Loft plans to raise $2.5 million to fund its goals. To start, the theater will buy the land and building of its next-door neighbor, J&L Automotive, 3251 E. Speedway, converting the building into a theater.

Johnson said the goal is to have the third screen ready to go by November. After that, the next goals will be to renovate the main building - including adding an elevator - and connecting the two buildings, allowing for a larger lobby, box office and concession stand. The connection will also let the Loft move its offices into the theater rather than rent space across the street.

The Loft has already raised about $800,000 toward the goal, with much of that funding coming from Cox Communications.

"Cox supports the Loft, because it is part of a vibrant arts community and a vibrant arts community is a key part to the economic health of our community," said Cox Communications Vice President Lisa Lovallo in an emailed statement.

"The statistics and studies bear it out: Art and cultural institutions create jobs and bring money and resources into the region. And certainly, the Loft is a key part of this vibrancy that continues to make our community a better place to live and work."

Johnson said the shape and design of the auto repair shop lends itself surprisingly well to a changeover into a theater. The new screen will boast stadium seating, allowing for unobstructed sight lines in each row.

Construction will repurpose shipping crates as building blocks, and the patio between the Loft and Speedway will become a park of sorts, with trees and flowers.

Not that the Loft faithful won't recognize their new cinematic paradise.

"The look and feel will be the same, basically," Johnson said. "We're not changing it. ... It's still gonna be funky and have the Loft feel."

Campaign breakdown

How the Loft will spend the $2.5 million it raises


Cost to acquire land and building for J&L Automotive, 3251 E. Speedway, which the Loft will convert into a third theater.


New construction to build the theater and connect the Loft to the third theater.


Renovation, including adding an elevator to the main building.


Adding digital technology to the theaters.

To donate

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at or 573-4130.