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Palace Theater AC project finally complete

The Palace Theater is days away from turning on its air conditioner for the first time in decades.

Before the theater could receive a permit for the new air conditioning unit, the Hawaii County Fire Department had to approve the theater’s fire and sprinkler systems.

Since 2018, the Palace has been replacing sprinkler heads, swapping valves and restoring piping to pass the inspection from the fire department.

For the past three years, the theater has had to limit capacity from 485 to 299 people.

“Before COVID-19, these capacity limits were hindering our box office totals, but now that the inspection has been completed, we are days away from turning on the AC,” said Executive Director Phillips Payson. “With this completion, and as soon as COVID is no longer an issue, we’ll be back at full capacity finally, and we can thrive once again.”

A $150,000 grant from the state helped cover part of the air conditioning installation, but most of the funds came from community donations over the past six years.

Payson did not know the exact cost of the entire air conditioning installation, but said the total is hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“It seems like everyone on the island has donated to an AC campaign at some point,” Payson said.

Palace began raising funds for the air conditioning unit in 2015 with its We’re Chillin’ campaign. During the initial fundraiser, a couple thousand dollars worth of donations were stolen overnight.

While the Palace has not had a robbery since then, it continues to make the theater safer for employees and patrons.

“Ever since the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, we have seen an influx in the number of people camping outside the theater overnight,” Payson said. “We’ve had less staff presence in the evenings to ask people to move along, and word gets around that our front steps are a good shelter.”

After completing the facade renovation last summer, staff at the Palace have been noticing that people have been degrading the building by erecting shelters against the wall and leaving litter scattered around the steps.

Some staff have also found urine and fecal matter near the front entrance.

“Having done this huge facade renovation last summer and seeing it disrespected has been very disheartening,” Payson said. “We are a community space, and we want to keep it taken care of, and to keep fighting community members on this is a disheartening battle.”

The Palace currently is trying to raise $5,000, which will be matched with $10,000 by a private donor, to install security gates that would prevent people from camping over night.

The gates would be housed in a chamber that would be built behind the theater’s awning. They would be dropped from above every night and painted beige to blend in with the facade.

“We want to keep the building safe and sound and give our patrons and employees peace of mind when they visit,” Payson said.

The Palace also has fixed its projector and is showing movies throughout the week.

On Halloween, the Palace will be hosting its annual Rocky Horror Picture Show event with limited capacity.

“It’s nice to be able to return to some normalcy, since we weren’t able to put on this show last year,” Payson said. “Even if it’s limited capacity, we still want everyone to come dressed up and ready to have a great time.”

More information about donating to the security project or on upcoming events can be found online at

Email Kelsey Walling at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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