A standing-room-only crowd of interested supporters attended a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss the future of Park Theatre renovation.
On display were artist renderings of the proposed layout of the revamped theater, along with historic photos of the Park in its heyday.
Park Theatre Group board member David Marttala began by introducing some of the other board members, including Steve Phillips, Sandra Haynes, Deborah Grepperud, Sarah Covert, Medora Willmore and Diane Stanley, and noting the decade-long effort by the organization to get the renovation off the ground.
“Several of these people have worked on this project for a long, long time,” Marttala said. “For over 10 years we’ve been working on it. We could give you a long history of what we’ve done, but what we wanted to do tonight is to bring in the architects that we’ve been working with, AEI out of Cookeville, and let them tell you how the plans are going and what we’re going to do with the theater.”
The architects outlined plans to make the Park Theatre a multi-purpose facility. The AEI design is set up to show movies, have live music performances and live theater performances featuring local talent. The design will even allow for tables to replace removable seating so food could be served if a function required it.
The Park will be available for private functions, like weddings or anniversaries, or as a venue for local clubs, nonprofit organizations, or businesses to hold meetings or parties.
The architects said they understand how much the Park Theatre means to the people of Warren County, and they want to return the Park to the way it looked in its glory days in the 1960s. The big, back-lighted medallions on the sides of the inside walls will be replaced. The marquee will be reworked so it will be a faithful recreation of the original, with the lights underneath the marquee that will go on and off in series to give the illusion of movement around the marquee itself. And in what has always been one of the main issues, the upright lighted Park sign will be reworked to appear as close to the original look as possible.
The main issue with city government is the cost which is broadly estimated to be $1.2 to $2 million. Marttala says the Park Theatre Group plans to use the profits from the facility to make the debt service payments on any bonds the city takes out so there won’t be a major burden on taxpayers. Marttala said there will be some people hired to operate the facility, but the majority of profits will go back into making the debt service payments and improving the Park Theatre.
“We’re a nonprofit,” said Marttala. “Any money that we make is going to go to help the city to pay the debt service, and to improve and maintain the theater. We’re not making any money. We’re all volunteers.”
Mayor Norman Rone noted there are some obstacles to overcome.
“The board has unofficially several times in the past said they’re in favor of it,” Rone said. “There are just some minor details to be worked out in deciding if we want to make the investment. As I told you earlier, I’m willing. I think it’s a great plan and I want to do it, but you have to keep in mind this is not a cheap investment. It’s going to cost quite a bit of money to do this. We’re going to have to get the money with a bond issue, and it’s going to take several years to pay it back. Each year the city’s going to have to make a payment of around $150,000 to $200,000 for about a 20-year period.
“That’s a lot of money,” Rone added. “But if the citizens want to do it, and they’re really behind it, I would certainly vote to do it. That’s why we want feedback. And not just from the Park Theatre Group. Tell all your friends, tell everybody to please contact us and let us know. Because the more folks who let us know how they feel about it, the easier it’s going to be for me to convince these guys to do it. That’s where we stand. The decision could be made soon if we get enough response.”
In fact, the board has put a resolution on the docket for its next meeting this Tuesday night at 7 p.m. to enter into a contract with AEI to prepare plans, specifications and bid documents for renovation of the Park Theatre. Park Theatre Group board members say they hope people will come to this meeting and show their support.
Marttala emphasized if people can’t make the meeting, they can still let aldermen know they’re behind it.
“I think at this point the most important thing people can do is call the aldermen and the mayor,” said Marttala. “Probably the best way is to call the city number, which is 473-1200, and tell them they’re in support of this and want to see this done. The aldermen have all told me that’s important to them. They want to hear the public is behind this. We’ve tried to convince them of that, but I think the personal touch of giving them a call and leaving them your name and information and that you’re behind this is key. The more they hear that, the more confident they’ll be to move forward with the project.”
Sandra Haynes, who has been involved with the project since the beginning, said it’s vital for literally everyone who would love to see the Park Theatre returned to its former glory to let aldermen know, and not wait for others to do it.
“We don’t need to be the silent majority here,” said Haines. “We need to let them know how we feel. So please, call or talk to the aldermen. We need your help to get this done.”