Highland, IN – Town Council cancels Town Theatre renovation
The final curtain went down on the Town Theatre on Monday when the Town Council voted against a renovation of the long vacant building.
A divided council voted 3-2 to reject a proposal, first made in 2014, to renovate and reopen the 71 year-old theater that was bought by the town in a county tax sale several years ago.
Voting against the renovation were councilmen Mark Herak, I-2nd; Konnie Kuiper, D-2nd; and Council Vice president Steve Wagner, D-4th.
Voting in favor were Councilman Bernie Zemen, D-1st and Council President Dan Vassar, D-3rd.
The vote took place before a packed house of supporters and opponents.
Because the proposal will never reach the drawing board, the historic building could soon face the wrecking ball because of its unsafe condition.
The council’s vote instructed the Redevelopment Commission to cease all renovation efforts and seek contractor quotes to preserve the theater’s famous marquee and ticket booth.
“The Town Theatre was not just about the theater,” Redevelopment Director Cecile Petro said. “It was to develop a district.”
The direction of that development — an arts and cultural district — is now in question until the dust settles from the council’s vote, Vassar said.
“We need to find a developer who wants to come in and work with us on that stretch” of Kennedy,“ he said.
This could involve the general area being made “shovel ready” for private developers with a “shared vision” with the town, Vassar said.
Adjoining properties would need to be acquired and “assembled” to make one large parcel, Vassar noted.
Wagner said he would like to see the building make a comeback as a multi-use facility.
“However, I am not in favor of the proposal to build it with public money,” Wagner said. “Also, I am not in favor of the town owning the theater and being responsible for its ongoing operational costs if the theater board comes up short.”
Wagner added his hopes that a private investor might step forward to redevelop the area surrounding the theater that would include construction of another theater.
“Then, perhaps we can leverage the development to build a completely new theater.”
Before the vote, Zemen gave examples of beloved business icons in Highland that he grew up with — that are no longer around.
He suggested that the theater should not join that list of defunct landmarks.
Kuiper said he had many concerns, and unanswered questions, regarding the proposed renovation.
“I have really struggled with the decision,” he said prior to the vote.
The renovation costs originally were estimated between $1.9 and $2.5 million, whereas the bids came in at an average of $3.2 million, excluding the highest bid.
“The question remains, should the town own and operate a theater?” Herak said. “Is running a theater the town’s core competency?”
The board thanked the Redevelopment Commission, Board of Directors, Petro and all the theater volunteers for their hard work.
“We can agree to disagree,” Vassar said of the council’s divided vote. “But we don’t hold that against each other.”
Story link: http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/town-council-cancels-town-theatre-renovation/article_e6a88444-3427-5847-85db-53936b1e94c9.html
ABOUT THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA: Founded by Ben Hall in 1969, the Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) celebrates, documents and promotes the architectural, cultural and social relevance of America’s historic theatres. Through its preservation of the collections in the American Theatre Architecture Archive, its signature publication Marquee™ and Conclave Theatre Tour, THS increases awareness, appreciation and scholarly study of America’s theatres.
Learn more about historic theatres in the THS American Theatre Architecture Archives and on our website at historictheatres.org