Josh Benham

When the Liberty Theatre Foundation’s funding proposal was not approved by the Urban Renewal Agency last month, the foundation decided to step back and think about the direction it was headed, Executive Director Kelly Ducote said.

The result was a scaled-down campaign and funding request intended to get the historic theatre up and running as soon as possible.

The Urban Renewal Agency and the Union County Commissioners held a joint work session Monday to hear a revised funding proposal from the LTF. Previously, it sought $250,000 from the URA 2017-2018 fiscal year, as part of its goal of raising $3.8 million to restore the theatre. The proposal was not approved during February’s URA regular session amid concerns that the project would hamstring the agency in funding other projects down the road.

“We really thought long and hard about our campaign and the direction we’re headed, so we kind of dialed back our plan,” Ducote said.

The foundation is now seeking $100,000 from the URA as well as forgiveness of a $150,000 loan five years ago from the URA to take possession of the Liberty Theatre building, and $50,000 from Union County.

The funding is contingent upon the Legislature approving state funding of $1 million. The previous loan is convertible to a grant upon opening the theatre under the original stipulations of the agreement, and the Urban Renewal District/city holds a first position lien on the property until the loan converts to a grant. Ducote said if state funding doesn’t come through, there would be no impact to the budgets of the Urban Renewal District or the county.

The dialed-back campaign budget presented Monday was $2.5 million, about $1.3 million less than the original campaign, and includes nearly $700,000 of restoration work done to date.

“We believe that this is much more reasonable and a lot more palatable to people in the community,” Ducote said. “If we’re successful with legislative funding, along with these two requests, that would get us over 70 percent of the campaign goal.”

Ducote said the foundation is confident the remaining 30 percent could be quickly accessed through fundraising efforts. She said the scaled-down campaign doesn’t include some of the elaborate restoration features from February’s proposal, and excludes the expansion and restoration of the CD Putnam building next door.

“It’s not going to be over the top. (But) it will be done nicely and in a comfortable way,” Ducote said. “A lot of people want (the theatre) to be open as soon as possible. We see this as the route to get there.”

Michael Wilson, of Westby Associates, a consulting firm in Vancouver, Washington, said the foundation is anticipating opening in the fall of 2018, if the campaign is successful.

The foundation envisions the Liberty Theatre as a home for the local performing arts community, a lively spot where arts and entertainment like films, plays, comedy shows and live music come together under one roof. Ducote said three full-time positions would be created after opening, including an executive director, and the foundation foresees growing to five employees by the fifth year and 10 by the 10th year.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer

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