The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on April 27, 2001 · Page 25
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 25

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Friday, April 27, 2001
Page 25
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FRIDAY APRIL 27, 2001 THE SALINA JOURNAL WHAT'S HOT / D2 MOVIES / D3 BRIEFLY / D4 SMALL-TOWN THEATERS "Kids in a small town are like flies at a picnic. Everywhere they land, someone is there to swat them. Movie theaters are a safe haven." David Darling Kansas State University economist (and stories of other Kansas towns working to save their ailing nnovie theaters — and, in the process, save themselves — from fading to black) By TIM UNRUH The Salina Journal evived movie theaters, where the big screens again feature first-run flicks and local resi- , dents don't have to hit the road for entertainment, have earned a rating of SH for Self Help. The can-dp spirit has saved the Dream Theatre in Russell, the Majestic Community Theatre in Phillipsburg and the Lucas Area Community Theatre. Theaters in Smith Center, Norton and (coming soon) Stockton also get the rating. Community-owned and -operated theaters are a trend in Kansas and other states, said Ned Webb, director of the community-development division of the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing. Independently owned establishments that have been around for decades, some decaying from neglect, are being rescued from the death row of out-migration — i.e., rural-America — by town folks who ; refuse to let another business perish. "I think the best part of it is these communities taking these actions are literally digging into their own pockets," Webb said. "They have all done it on their own." The Mainstreet Theatre in Russell started in 1923. It was renovated 12 years later and renamed the Dream Theatre. The theater was destroyed by fire in 1947 and reopened two years later as the New Dream Theatre. The most recent owner, Bob Bagby of B&B Theatres, Salisbury, Mo., closed it in May 2000. Enter the people of Russell. Spurred by the nonprofit Keep the Dream Alive Committee, donations were gathered to pay for an appraisal and to pay the property's back taxes — $6,000 in all. In return, Bagby donated the building and projection equipment to the Russell Arts Council, said Steve Wells, chairman of the committee's board of directors. "There were no places to go in town for the young or old to see movies," said Wells, who manages the city's wastewater treatment plant. Movie lovers had to drive 30 miles to Hays or 40 miles to Great Bend to see a show. Gathering donations, the group installed a new sound system and di-apes that improved the theater's acoustics. The building also needed a heating and cooling system and an ice maker. So for another $20,000, Russell was back in the movie business. "We were out talking to every service organization and at the county fair," Wells said. The Dream reopened about six months ago and is meeting expenses with a volunteer staff. Five people operate the 220-seat theater nightly but a minimum of three will do, he said. The theater sold out opening night, Nov 23, and has averaged 50 Grant assistance for community-owned theaters is liard to come by, says Ned Webb, director of tlie community- development division with the Kansas Department of Commerce & Housing. But there is assistance available through a community-service tax credit program. The state just Photos by TOM DORSEY / The Salina Journal Steve Wells, chairman of the Keep the Dream Alive Committee, is one of many people working to keep a movie theater operating in Russell. patrons when it's open Fridays through Sundays showing first-run awarded $5 million in credits, and typically 25 to 35 nonprofit organizations apply for them. For example, he said, if a company donates $1,000 to the qualifying nonprofit group, the company gets a $700 credit against its state income tax. —The Salina Journal movies. Admission is $5 for adults and youths 10 and older, $3 for children ages 3 to 9 and free for children under 3 with a paid adult. IVIajestic effort The Majestic Theatre in Phillipsburg was struggling when owner Paula Haskett, Agra, closed the doors in September. "It wasn't a want-to situation," said Haskett, sister to Bob Bagby "Financially, it just was not holding its own." But it wasn't long before local banker Lloyd Culbertson put together a group and began collecting donations for a local foundation. The nonprofit organization agreed to buy the equipment, and Haskett is in the process of donating the building. With more than $30,000 raised, the Majestic Community Theatre was born Nov. 17. After the equipment purchase, there was money left for opera-. tions, said Becky Ubben, theater manager and the only paid employee. Local civic clubs and organizations staff the theater one night a month, and there's a sign-up sheet in the lobby "Volunteer help has been good," Ubben said. Occasionally the sign­ ups are lacking, "and I have to do some calling." The Majestic sports two screens. The Dream theater has been a part of downtown Russell for decades. each showing a different movie Fridays through Mondays. The upstairs theater seats 60, and downstairs holds 250. Attendance has been down, with only 40 paid customers last weekend, she said, which makes it difficult to meet expenses when movie companies charge either $200 or 35 percent of ticket sales for first-run movies. "From January on, it's been kind of slow," Ubben said. "It's typically a slow time of year." The big savings with a community-owned theater is in labor costs, Haskett said, and there is also a sense of ownership. "I'm proud of the community" she said. "They jumped in, supported it and got it going. It's good to see people enjoying the entertainment." Common ground Movie theaters in small towns are considered "public common space," said David Darling, a community-development economist for Kansas State University Extension Service. "Those are important building dimensions." Youth are best served by theaters, and that's important during a time when rural populations are getting older "Kids in a small town are like flies at a picnic. Everywhere they land, someone is there to swat them," Darling said. "Movie theaters are a safe haven." Movies are one stick in a "bundle of functions" found in communities, he said, and once lost they're difficult to get back. Featured attraction It took 20 years and $125,000 in donations for Lucas to get back its theater. A nonprofit group was formed in February 1999, and volunteers organized to refurbish the old Isis Theatre building downtown into a stage for live performances and a cinema. About 50 people, ranging in ages from 10 to 82, logged more than 3,500 hours remodeling the old theater The Lucas Area Community Theatre opened the Saturday before Halloween, with a grand opening Dec. 16. First-run movies are shown Fridays through Sundays, and the 188- seat facility is often more than one- third full on movie nights, said Les Schneider, president of the 11- member board of directors. He, two other board members and his son, Joel Schneider, are trained to run the projection equipment, and the theater has had good volunteer support. "It's really been a fun project, to see it put together and utilize it," ' said Schneider, manager of the Lucas Great Plains Manufacturing plant. The group has received a Kansas Department of Commerce grant to build a marquee out front. The facility also houses concerts, seasonal celebrations and plays. He said the theater is paying its bills. Succeeding with such a big pro- ; ject requires a common focus, Schneider said, and a group of peo-" pie who are dedicated to seeing it ; through. He expressed pride in what the community of fewer than 500 people has accomplished. "This community supports itself," he said. "This community re- '. fuses to die." • Reporter Tim Unruh can be reached at 823-6464, Ext. 137, or by : e-mail at SUGGESTIONS? CALL ALAN STOLFUS, ENCORE! EDITOR, AT 823-6363 OR 1-800-827-6363 OR E-MAIL AT

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