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Star power: Belushi takes first whack at Holly

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More than 300 people cheered the groundbreaking Tuesday for the Holly Theatre in downtown Medford, but what really got Michelle Ellis and many others pumped was standing next to one of their favorite movie stars, Jim Belushi.

"I'm good now -- I got to touch him," Ellis said after her dizzying moment rubbing shoulders with Belushi, though the 41-year-old Medford resident who lives on Holly Street said she didn't want to bother him for an autograph.

Belushi, honorary chair of the Holly Restoration Committee, helped smash a ceremonial hole in the wall of the theater to create a new side entrance, announcing that the final push is underway to restore the theater -- with a grand reopening set for the middle of 2020.

Belushi said that from the moment he saw the building he was impressed with its energy and the history that emanated from the 1930s-era theater, designed by renowned local architect Frank Clark.

"This has been a joyful, spiritual place that has been let go," said Belushi.

He said the theater will create a lot of energy in an area of downtown that is less than vibrant, and he hopes to sing and dance inside the 1,020-seat auditorium when it opens.

"To me it’s really about a place to create magic," Belushi said. "You never forget where you laugh."

Mayor Gary Wheeler told the crowd he remembers going to the Holly and other theaters when he was a young boy.

“I spent a lot of time in the drive-ins, but that’s another story,” he said. Wheeler was an early supporter of the effort to renovate the Holly, helping push for city money to help with the project and reinvigorate the downtown.

“This is a dream come true to see the Holly close to reopening,” he said.

Brad Hicks, president and CEO of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County, said the Holly had been a shooting star in the history of the city, and the renovation will help the Holly shine into Medford’s future.

“It’s going to take its place among those constant stars,” Hicks said, paraphrasing a quote from Belushi.

While the renovation is expected to be complete by the middle of 2020, the work will likely proceed in fits and starts, something the Holly has faced since the restoration was started in 2012 by Jefferson Public Radio. At the time, the facade was restored and failing trusses supporting the roof were repaired.

“I have to say, I wasn’t sure we were going to get to this point,” said Randy McKay, executive director of Jefferson Live!, which runs the Holly and the Cascade Theatre in Redding.

The Holly’s fundraising goal is $9.4 million, and supporters are still $3.5 million shy of that amount. Donations can be made at www.hollytheatre.org or by calling 541-772-3797.

Workers from Hamcon Builders of Eagle Point are concentrating on the front part of the building, including adding an elevator.

Once the front portion of the building is finished, work will begin on the stage, the tower above the stage, dressing rooms, a loading dock and other rooms on the stage side of the building.

The auditorium will be tackled in the last phase, along with lighting, seats and other finishing touches. When it’s finished, the Holly will be the largest theater venue in Southern Oregon.

At Tuesday’s groundbreaking, the portion of Sixth Street in front of the theater was closed. Sidewalks and portions of streets will be closed during construction.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com Follow him on www.twitter.com.reporterdm.

Chamber of Medford/Jackson County President Brad Hicks adds his muscle to the groundbreaking. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Actor Jim Belushi says the Holly Theatre is "a joyful, spiritual place that has been let go." Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
From left, Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler, Chamber President Brad Hicks and actor Jim Belushi mug for the camera during the Holly Theatre groundbreaking. Photo by Andy Atkinson
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneActor Jim Belushi looks through a hole in the wall that he and Mayor Gary Wheeler put into the side of the Holly Theatre in downtown Medford Tuesday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneActor Jim Belushi speaks with passion at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Holly Theatre in downtown Medford Tuesday.
Actor Jim Belushi says the Holly Theatre renovation is "really about a place to create magic."
Center, from left, Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler, Medford chamber President Brad Hicks and film and television star Jim Belushi pose with others for a photo op. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Center, from left, Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler, Medford chamber President Brad Hicks and film and television star Jim Belushi pose with others for a photo op.{ } Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneA large crowd of supporters attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the Holly Theatre in downtown Medford Tuesday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneActor Jim Belushi (middle front) takes a photo op with all who attended the groundbreaking ceremony at the Holly Theatre in downtown Medford Tuesday.