Knoxville News Sentinel: Sen. Alexander praises work happening at Harriman's Princess Theater

Posted on April 21, 2011

HARRIMAN - After residents clapped for him Monday, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said he had some applause for Harriman and its revived royalty.

The Tennessee Republican went on a quick tour of the Princess Theater, which is undergoing restoration thanks to a TVA payment and a state grant.

"Sometimes it takes a good idea a while to happen,'' Alexander said, while standing in the studios of the new public access TV station Channel 15 next door to the Princess.

"This is a very impressive achievement for the citizens of Harriman and everyone involved,'' he said.

With scaffolding as a backdrop in the cavernous theater auditorium, Alexander received a quick overview of the project, to be completed in about two months.

When finished, the renovated theater with its distinctive Art Deco facade is intended to become an multicounty attraction, serving as both an educational and cultural magnet.

City officials are banking on it to resurrect a downtown dotted with empty buildings.

"You can't make people go downtown," the senator said. "You've got to attract people to go downtown.''

Harriman is using a $1.7 million payment from TVA after the disastrous December 2008 ash spill at its Kingston Fossil Plant along with a $312,000 state grant to revive the Princess, launch the TV station next door and open a trailhead center to tout local attractions.

Roane State Community College students are running Comcast Channel 15, which went on the air in December.

"When the scaffolding comes down, that's when the fun begins,'' architect Frank Sparkman said of renovation inside the auditorium, which seated some 900 people in its heyday.

Infrastructure will be installed, and the finishing touches will begin, he said, including the soon-to-be brightly lit exterior.

The theater opened in 1926 and was destroyed by a fire in 1939. It reopened 10 months later. The Princess screened its last movie in 1999 and was then shuttered.