The city's current status is a far cry from the early 1960s when Benham couldn't afford the upkeep of the buildings International Harvester left. Where before, the theater sat silent, now it is filled with the welcome noises of renovation tools.
Howard said the early restoration was a messy process.
"See, that building had been left for ruin for over 40 years. And it leaked," said Howard.
She says water had to be pumped out of the basement before it could be cleaned. Only then could city officials start to assess the restoration project, said Howard.
Funding for the project began unsuccessfully in the early 1980s and has taken until now to fully materialize, she said.
If all goes well, the theater could see its first patrons this summer. Howard is already thinking about the grand opening. She says she hasn't finalized the plans, but she hopes to include everyone who has helped the project since it began.
After opening, Howard hopes for a busy daily operation. Ideally, she'd like to see the 244-seat theater packed seven days a week, but she admits that might be a little ambitious.
"It'll be awhile before I think it really takes on a great deal," said Howard.
She envisions the theater eventually providing movies and plays with various musicians performing. The revenue these events obtain will sustain the theater's expenses, said Howard.
Much of the remaining work includes the interior wood trim and painting the ticket booth, said Bryan Lewis of Lewis Brothers Inc. General Contractors.
The contracting firm is restoring the theater from start to finish, excluding theater equipment and seating. Lewis, whose company was the lowest bidder, said many of the theater's utilities and drywall are nearing completion. He said the plumbing was about halfway completed. The company started the project late last summer and expects to be finished in May.
Much of this current work has been funded by grants. The ultimate completion of the building depends on two crucial fundraisers by the city.
Howard is currently awaiting final approval for Renaissance Kentucky Downtown Revitalization Grant, which is administered by the Kentucky Department for Local Government (DLG). The grant is approximately $250,000, said Howard.
According to DLG public information officer, Candi Combs, Benham's grant status should be finalized within weeks.
Combs couldn't guarantee approval, but noted "Benham is exactly what funds are designed for."
Basically, all Howard has to do next is fund the seating and theater amenities. She plans to do this by selling the potential seats to any theater supporter. This will in turn provide enough funding for equipment, not to mention the seats themselves.
A plaque near the theater's entrance will display all of the seat supporters.
"We have to see if we're going to be fortunate enough to sell the seats in order to know what kind of projection equipment we can afford," said Howard.
Howard says she has sold 10 seats thus far.
The completed theater will act as a complement to the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, the Coal Miners Memorial Park, The Schoolhouse Inn and future restored attractions.
Although the next restoration projects are up for community discussion, Howard says they may include the coal workers' club house, the company hospital, and a donated house on Poplar Street all tying into the past coal worker experience. Work has already started on the restoration of the company jail, a less expensive project, which would provide vendor space.
All of this activity points to possible tourism and jobs, says Howard.
"Everything has taken a great deal of time and a great deal of thought, so it should be a good product at the end," said Howard.