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Park Theatre appears to be high priority
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McMinnville residents have spoken and their officials were listening.
Park Theatre renovation could be one of the first things undertaken by the new board after it is sworn in later this month.
“I think we should honor the wishes of the citizens,” said incoming alderman Mike Neal. “I think we need to move forward with the Park Theatre. It will be a great addition to downtown.”
Along with providing a centralized location for local activities, Neal sees the theatre as a way to attract tourism dollars.
“I think Park Theatre will bring tourism into downtown,” Neal said. “I really think the first two to three years it will be a burden on taxpayers. After that short period, if operated as it should be, it will be close to breaking even financially and well on its way to becoming a draw for tourists.”
Park Theatre has been closed since 1986. Incoming Alderman Jimmy Bonner says he remembers the theatre fondly.
“It was the most exciting thing for us as children,” he said. “We would go there and spend all day. City residents have made their voices heard in regard to Park Theatre. They want it. I’m highly in favor of renovation. I think the marquee should be shining downtown.”
Bonner wants to see the theatre be financially profitable, rather than a drain on taxpayer money.
“I would love to see it turn a profit for the city,” said Bonner. “I don’t want to see the taxpayers foot the bill on this every year like they do the Civic Center.”
The property has been in the city’s hands since 2001.
“I don’t know what has taken so long, but we need to move forward,” said incoming Alderman Ben Newman. “We should sit down in a open meeting and figure out what quality of structure we want based on the intended use and move forward.”
He added, “Park Theatre could be a great asset to our community and beneficial to downtown. We will have a place for students so they don’t have to go out of town.”
Alderman Jimmy Haley, who will be sworn in as mayor Nov. 27, says financing could be a challenge.
“I think the challenge will be finding the financing right now,” Haley said. “It’s not in our budget to address the $2 million price tag. We may have to look at some alternatives to financing or partnering with groups. There might be some grant money out there.”
Franklin County sold commemorative seats in its theatre, while other counties sold “stars” to be placed on the sidewalk to help finance renovation. Despite the financing issue, Haley is in favor of renovation.
“I think it’s a valid project,” said Haley. “If it’s half as successful as Cannon County’s, all I see is a win-win situation for everyone. We need to focus on finance and working on a way to make Park Theatre happen. Let’s not sit around talking about it for another year.”
Alderman Billy Wood believes Park Theatre should be the first priority of the new board.
“Now that we have a mandate from the people and a well-qualified new board, I think we need to expedite Park Theatre renovation as the city’s main priority,” said Wood. “However, being the city’s only remaining incumbent, it might not matter what I say for the next two years.”
The new board will be sworn in Nov. 27. No date has been set to discuss the future of Park Theatre restoration. Alderman Rick Barnes was unavailable for comment.