Shortly after their annual board meeting last year, the members of the Twilight Theatre executive board scrapped a proposed “loan plan” in favor of a combined public and private funding plan that brought them in front of the Greensburg City Council two weeks ago and the Kiowa County Commissioners on Monday morning.
“Rather than being in a charitable organization mindset, we’ve pooled our business skills and created a sustainable business plan,” said Twilight Board Member Brad Estes on Monday. “We started to look at this building for more than just movies and find ways to generate sustainable revenue.”
Estes gave a 30-minute presentation to the commissioners, including John Unruh, Ron Freeman and newly-elected Second District Commissioner Bert Lowery.
Newly-elected County Attorney J. Scott James and Kiowa County Clerk Kristie Odle were also present.
Estes’ pitch was for a reformed Twilight Theatre business and operations plan, highlighting events, functions and proposed revenue streams.
Board members are requesting a $450,000 commitment from the county, to help close a $1.9 million gap in construction funding.
It was a similar presentation to the one Estes delivered last month to the Greensburg City Council, asking them for $150,000 in committed funds.
“You guys are the folks who will make all of the decisions about how we will develop economically going forward,” said Estes. “In other towns, infrastructure is falling apart and they feel like ‘it is what it is.’ We’re different.”
The Twilight Theatre completed the first of three phases of construction in June. Erecting the exterior walls and the steel and concrete work cost about $1.5 million, half of the total costs to complete brick and mortar construction. An additional $400,000 is budgeted for furnishing and theatrical equipment. Total construction costs are estimated to be $3.4 million.
According to Twilight Theatre Board President Roger Stotts, the theater has raised $800,000 since Summer 2012 from a combination of public and private donations, which includes an additional $300,000 commitment from USD 422.
The Kiowa County Schools currently uses the main gymnasium and the auditorium inside the former Mullinville High School building for vocal, instrument and drama productions and performances.
Those events will be relocated to the Twilight Theatre once it has been completed. Including a previous commitment of $500,000, the school has committed a total $800,000 towards construction costs.
“We’ve always had ongoing conversations with the Twilight Theatre board about that building being a shared-use building,” said USD422 Superintendent Darren Headrick. “We looked at use-versus-cost when we were considering an auditorium. We would only really need it part time and so would the theater, so it made sense to us. We’ve always done everything we can do to put our kids in better facilities. And this isn’t something that is going to get used once or twice, it’s going to be there for, we hope, generations.”
Page 2 of 3 - While the current fundraising plan is focused on public funding as well as private, construction costs thus far have relied on only a small amount of public funding.
The previous $500,000 commitment by USD 422, a pair of $3,000 non-profit grant fund contributions from the city of Greensburg and a $100,000 matching grant from the South Central Community Foundation accounted for about 40 percent of total construction expenditures.
If county commissioners and city officials agree to a contribution, about half of the $3.4 million construction costs will be from public funds. Although funds committed by USD 422, possibly the largest public contributor to the project, could come from the Friends of Education Community Trust (FECT), a USD 422-associated non-profit organization.
“We have not decided where the funds will come from, but we have had and will continue to have that conversation,” said Headrick.
Board members feel that the building may be experiencing some “community construction fatigue,” following nearly five years of a construction “boom,” fueled by an injection of federal relief funds and municipal coffers filled by a spike in property valuation.
Stotts, the current Twilight board president, disagrees with anyone who sees the theater as the “last” construction project on Main Street.
“I see this as being another piece,” said Stotts. “We have people that want to put restaurants in and build housing developments. People are watching and waiting. If we can’t get this done there are others that won’t want to invest in our community. I see this as being a very important component to the future of our community because there are people watching to see if we get this done.”
Stotts thinks the requests are “reasonable” and any money put into construction of the building would be returned through increases in sales tax.
“All we are doing is asking, we’re trying,” added Stotts. “We think it’s going to benefit the county, the city and the surrounding area. I mean, we’re in the ballpark. We’ve put a lot of time and thought into these numbers. We think they are fair and realistic. [Funding from] the city and the county is very important. If we can get their support, we’re very close.”
Stotts, one of the larger farmers in Kiowa County, said he brought some much needed business savvy to the board, encouraging them to create a robust, business-focused plan.
He said they’ve also revisited their public relations approach, likely due to their anticipated requests for public funds.
“We’re being very transparent,” he said. “There isn’t anything that we’ve done that we won’t share with anyone. There is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of questions about the project and we are trying to answer all of them. We think the doubt about the project has been created by the lack of information. I admit, in the past we haven’t done a good job of putting out what we are doing.”
Page 3 of 3 - Neither the city council nor the commissioners voted on the request, through commissioners Unruh and Lowery and a number of city council members asked questions following the presentations.
Twilight Theatre board member Gary Goodman was present in the commissioner’s chambers on Monday morning and commented that the board will ask county residents to sign a petition in support of the project.
Commissioner Lowery asked if he would also circulate a petition for people who opposed it.
“I will have one in each hand,” said Goodman.
The commissioners and city council are expected to vote on the requests at future meetings.