Jeff McDonald / The Bulletin
PRINEVILLE — It’s been just two weeks since Prineville native Kevin Wooldridge and two other partners opened Bunner’s, a dance club that plays everything from hip-hop to country.
It’s not the first place with a dance floor in the city, which has a population of 10,190, according to the latest report by Portland State University Population Research Center, but it could help fill an entertainment niche that has long been filled by Redmond and Bend, locals here say.
The nonsmoking club, completely remodeled in a building that includes black lights, lounge seating, a dance floor and a mix of DJ and live music selections, is geared toward adults of all ages and musical preferences, said Wooldridge, 41, who coached softball and football at Crook County High School and fought fires in Central Oregon before opening the business in mid-November.
“Prineville is still small, but there’s more of a market for live entertainment than people think,” Wooldridge said. “Bend is like ‘the city’ around here, but there’s no reason why Prineville can’t have a … (Bend-like nonsmoking) place to go dancing and have a drink.”
The club’s name has its roots in a nickname given him, “Bunner,” by his grandfather, Jesse Wooldridge, who was Crook County sheriff from 1955 to 1959.
Wooldridge’s partners in the club are Doug Gannon and Tim Smith, both 40. All three are lifelong friends and played on Crook County High School’s football team when it won the state championship in 1984.
The dance club is located two doors down from the Pine Theater, which also will fill an entertainment niche that has been missing since the theater closed in 1971, said Ali Mehrabi, 30. Mehrabi and his wife, Oniko, 37, are nearing completion of a nine-month, $700,000 restoration of the old theater, which will show first-run movies, including two new movies every week, and host live performances when the theater opens Dec. 14.
The couple sold everything, refinanced their house and worked with an investor to make the movie theater dream come true, Ali Mehrabi said.
“I didn’t think it was going to be to this extent,” said Mehrabi, referring to the new power, plumbing and sprinkler systems that were needed to bring the theater up to code. “I didn’t think we would have to gut everything.”
The demand for a movie theater and more entertainment options could help in an economy that has seen a downturn in its housing and retail sectors, said Diane Bohle, executive director of the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce.
The city, whose population grew 10 percent from July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006, slumped to 2 percent growth in 2006-2007, according to Portland State University.
Future growth is still expected at IronHorse, a 15- to 20-year project owned by Brooks Resources Corp. that would add up to 2,900 homes on the northeast end of Prineville.
But Brooks Resources has dropped prices across the board, citing a larger-than-expected inventory of homes and lots for sale.
Commercial site plan applications submitted to the city — including those for retail, office and industrial developments — slumped almost 71 percent in July, August and September compared with the same three-month period in 2006, according to the city of Prineville.
“The one thing that people in Prineville have wanted in all my conversations is a movie theater and more entertainment options,” Bohle said. “Both businesses have identified niche markets. … They will do well for the tourist market as well as the local market.”
The theater and the dance club could add to a night-life mix that will mean more people stay in Prineville for a night out than go to Bend or Redmond, said George Lewis, owner of Barney Prines Steakhouse & Saloon, located north of Third Street on North Main Street.
A slow economy meant a 10 percent drop in business at the restaurant in November compared with the same month in 2006, Lewis said.
“People are still going out to eat, but not as often when times are tough,” Lewis said. “I’m hoping that the theater brings more people downtown to eat before or after they see a movie.”
The restaurant next to Barney Prines, Barney’s Vineyard, also is owned by Lewis, and due for a makeover, he said.
The restaurant, which currently serves Italian food for lunch and dinner, will become a breakfast, lunch and dinner spot with a new name, Main Street Grill, Lewis said.
“We wanted to have more variety because people can always say, ‘I can make spaghetti at home,’” he said.