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NW Events & Management Group is re-opening the Venetian Theater in downtown Hillsboro.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Local Hillsboro business owner John Lee is re-opening the Venetian Theater in Downtown Hillsboro.

After being vacant for years, the Venetian Theater in downtown Hillsboro has a new owner with some big plans for the venue.

John Lee, who also owns Northwest Event Management Group, purchased the theater on April 20. Lee plans on adding some modern finishes to the venue while keeping its rustic feel and adding a fine dining experience for residents in the area.

"It's a natural extension of what we do already in the community," said Lee, who also owns Northwest Events & Environments, a Hillsboro event venue on 2900 N.E. Century Blvd.

As for the remodeling process, Lee's team is just getting started with the design phase of the project. The new owner hopes to change the façade of the building, create a two-floor restaurant and flatten the theater's floor into a multipurpose ballroom space for the community.

Lee said it's important to expand the space to include events other than theater and movie productions. His team plans to upgrade the Venetian's technology so it can host various artists and events for corporate clients or other community members.

"I just feel like there's so much more you could do with that space and that beautiful room, and the production of that room, if you had a ballroom floor on it," explained Lee. "We're actually going to make it into a two-tier balcony, and we could fit seats all around it. We've already counted it all out."

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Venetians theater currently seats 300 people. The venues new owner plans on flattening the floor to create a multipurpose ballroom for the community.

But the coronavirus pandemic has also added challenges to the re-opening. Lee remembers everything going as planned until Gov. Kate Brown announced her stay-at-home order on March 23.

"I was nervous," he recalled. "I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, our financials are OK. We're OK.' But we are an event business, and so revenue just ceased to exist at that point."

Despite trying to open a venue and restaurant during a pandemic, Lee is hopeful for the future. He plans to bring a new dining experience to the Westside this summer.

"Every day you're going to come in and there'll be something new on the menu," said Lee. "We'll have some few consistent additions within a month or week, but it will continue to change. Whatever chef you get that day, he's going to be creative and just present you something."

The goal is to bring to Hillsboro a dining experience you would expect to find in downtown Portland, without having to drive an hour in traffic to get there, he added.

Lee is also keeping social distancing measures in mind once the restaurant can open for business.

"The way we're designing this, at least downstairs, it's going to have private areas (where) you can have a private conversation," he explained, adding, "You're not going to have to worry about somebody else literally right next to you. ... With the size of the restaurant, it's going to be reservation only."

As for the upstairs portion of the restaurant, the renovation plan includes a bar lounge with a separate designed dining area. Lee is also counting on demand from the public to go with it.

"I don't think (demand) is going to be an issue," he said. "We have got to get it right. Otherwise, we won't be full later on. We got one shot at this, and I'm confident we're going to do well, especially with the experienced people that are here to bring this thing back to life."

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