Capitol

Capitol Theatre owner Robert Fury hopes to transform the former cinema into a venue for live music, but Erwin officials say they have requested that a structural engineer sign off on the building’s capacity for safely permitting public entry. To date, officials have stated they have not received the paperwork from Fury.

 

The Capitol Theatre finds itself center stage in an inspection battle with the Town of Erwin. 

Capitol Theatre owner Robert Fury was advised by the Town to obtain a structural engineer to sign off on a report that the building was structurally sound so the building could be occupied. 

“(Fury) had never provided the Town a report from a structural engineer showing the building is structurally sound,” said Erwin Town Recorder Todd Wilcox. “The Town of Erwin never approved a plan that would allow citizens or guests inside the Capitol Theatre or that would allow musical artists to play inside the Capitol Theatre. However, the owners are allowed in the building if they are performing work to correct the structural issues of the building.”

Though documentation was provided to the town by Fury on Nov. 4, Ryan Blankenship, building inspector for the Town of Erwin, said it had no bearing on the initial request.

“The documentation provided by Fury from the structural engineer reads ‘Because the structure is currently being stabilized by shoring, it should not be opened for use by the general public’ – which means nothing changes on our end,” he explained. 

Blankenship said the issue started back in August 2022.

“There were a lot of things being posted on social media about what was going to happen with the theatre,” Blankenship said. “Johnson City Building Inspector Chief Jeff Cannon and I went down and talked with Mr. Fury. Fury told us what he planned on doing and we told him, no short of two times, that he needs to get a structural engineer to say that building is safe for us to allow anyone to come in there. We advised him to bring a letter to the planning commission and even gave him steps of what he would need to allow anyone in the building for the Apple Festival. And we still haven’t received any of the information we requested from him.”

Additionally, Blankenship said that in 2021 when Fury bought the building, the former building inspector asked him the same request – a structural engineer saying the building was safe. 

“On Sept. 15 he kept posting on social media that he was going to have concerts and we took the necessary steps,” he said. “The building hasn’t been condemned, all that was issued was an order stating that no one could occupy the building unless they were there to remedy the structural integrity issues of the building.”

Fury, however, said that he did receive documentation from a structural engineer stating that the building had been inspected – though Fury did not release the name of the engineer. 

“The engineer just looked at the property. This is a licensed, Tennessee structural engineer. In 2018-2019 the structural issue that happened in late 2018 was looked at by two engineers,” Fury explained. “At that time, an engineer designed the structure. A local contractor shored up the property and I had a structural engineer in the property when I bought it in 2021 – the same engineer that was inside the building in 2019.

“I’ve been in construction in one form or another my whole entire life,” he added “It’s always been known that the building needs an entire redo to bring it up to correct code and always the first thing that needed to happen was the structural issue be fixed. We have the funds to do it and we’re going to do it.”

According to Fury and his wife Jen there have now been three structural engineers at site since 2019. Two have visited since they’ve owned the building, according to the couple.

“No one cares more about the safety of the theatre or of the safety of the neighboring structures and citizens than us. It’s always been priority number one to fix the structural issue and remove the shoring. It remains so,” Fury said. “This was communicated to the Erwin planning commission, in person at the theatre, a week prior to the initial injunction being filed. Just getting a new structural engineer to examine the building took over a month. But it will happen.  

“We have a team in place to bring this project to fruition. We recently hired and put on retainer a very experienced architect by the name of Ned Stacy who will be instrumental in helping us design a space that is pleasing to the eye and ear and meets all of the safety requirements of a modern structure. We hired him for his experience in hundreds of past projects including a historical theatre. He’s a local, from Jonesborough, and took on this project as a passion project, just like us.”

Recently, Fury met with town officials and was served with documentation concerning the eminent need for the signed order from a structural engineer. 

“He was very emotional and passionate about what he’s doing. He hired an attorney and gave her the order,” Blankenship said. “Fire Marshal Jason Harris had already sent a request in for the building to be looked at by a state electrical inspector.”

On Sept. 21, the theatre failed electrical and code inspections performed by the State of Tennessee Electrical Inspector Bruce Shelton and State Fire Marshal Joseph Strong. These issues include:

• unsafe structure of roofing 

• landings, balconies, and all other similar walking surfaces including handrails and guards are not structurally sound

• foundation systems are not firmly supported by footings

• compromised electrical equipment and connections 

• unused openings for circuit breakers

• insufficient working space

“Because (Fury) had never provided a structural engineering report to the Town of Erwin stating that the building is structurally sound and can be occupied and the building has failed both the State Fire Marshal’s report and the State Electrical Inspection, the Town has issued an order that the building could not be occupied for the safety and well-being of the citizens of the Town of Erwin,” Wilcox said. “Nothing has moved forward or backward on this matter. The only thing is all communication between the town and Mr. Fury is to go through our attorneys per Mr. Fury’s request.”

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