Crump’s next act: Attract a buyer

downtown Columbus landmark has gone through a feasibility study, a structural analysis and various attempts to revive its production capabilities. And now, The Crump Theatre might be about to face its biggest challenge yet: the open real-estate market.

As leather seating and wall fixtures continue to crack and peel, large paintings of iconic locations and characters continue to fade and cold winter air fills crumbling tunnels under the 125-year-old theater, the building’s owners are ready to spread the word on a larger scale that the historic theater is in need of a champion.

The Columbus Capital Foundation, which owns the building, is working to spur interest in The Crump through a marketing strategy that hasn’t been used before.

Tracy Souza, the foundation’s secretary, said one way the foundation will market the theater is by hiring preservation consultant Richard McCoy. He is part of the newly formed Columbus Design Landmarks group, charged with coming up with ideas about how to let people know The Crump is available for development and use.

McCoy said the group, which works as a project of the Heritage Fund, consists of himself, an advisory committee and an education committee, all of which will focus on preserving and protecting historic landmarks throughout the community.

Through this effort, McCoy has started to contact members of historical preservation organizations to try and identify prospects and parties interested in developing The Crump.

“The idea more generally is to get this out on a national level, to appeal to folks that are interested in coming back to Columbus or come invest in Columbus,” he said of the effort, which is just getting off the ground.

McCoy has started collecting information from organizations such as the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (DHPA) and Indiana Landmarks, both of which specialize in advocating for the preservation of old, historic buildings.

Besides the theater’s sentimental value to people with long connections to Columbus, it has physical value with a new roof and a frame that is structurally sound, he said.

Marketing options

McCoy’s group is just one avenue the Heritage Foundation could use to try to find interest in the old building.

He said there are also websites such as historicproperties.com, where buyers interested in reviving old buildings can shop for their dream project. The website has 12 Indiana buildings listed as historic properties up for sale, none of which are theaters.

Sharon Hinson, who runs the website, said it has advertised historic theaters in the past, including the 800-seat Art Deco-style Ritz Theater in downtown Newberry, South Carolina. The site had the theater advertised for $75,000, complete with seats, a balcony, lighting, a stage, fly space and an orchestra pit.

Some of the properties listed on that website have been restored as theaters while others were converted for new uses such as retail space and housing.

In Hinson’s opinion, the condition of the building is an important factor in its value to potential buyers, but not the most important one.

A desirable location is the most important factor, she said.

Historical value

McCoy said one of The Crump’s biggest selling points to outside buyers could be the effect that stepping inside its Art Deco-style lobby can have on newcomers.

“The Crump is a kind of time portal. If there’s anything a building can do, it can help us imagine what it was like 100 years ago,” McCoy said. “It can also help us connect with who we were 100 years ago.”

David Sechrest, author of “Columbus Indiana’s Historic Crump Theatre,” said while he’s not sure what kind of market value the theater might have, the art deco lobby and original wooden stage are the components of the structure he considers the most historically significant.

“I love the stage, personally, because the stage is the only part of the theater that dates back to 1889,” he said.

Sechrest said if the theater ever gets a renovation, he would like to see the stage preserved or reused in some aspect of the building.

American composer and conductor John Phillip Souza performed there, which adds to its historical distinction, Sechrest said.

Jeannie Regan-Dinius, director of special initiatives at DHPA, said the building has value in other aspects that could make it more marketable to outside sources.

“The Crump’s got that historical integrity. You also have value of its surroundings,” she said. “It’s still in the downtown area. It’s still a single-screen theater.”

Besides websites, print publications also advertise vacant, old and historical buildings such as movie theaters, she said.

But Regan-Dinius said the trends show a declining number of historical theaters in Indiana each year after they fail to attract developers and are demolished.

According to DHPA records, The Crump is the only one out of the five theaters operating at the turn of the century in Bartholomew County to have survived.

No local interest

It’s not been through lack of effort or financial commitment to assess The Crump’s potential.

Van Phillips, a theater consultant with Lafayette-based theater consultant group Jones & Phillips, signed a $95,520 contract with the city in December 2013 to study The Crump and its possible future uses, presented in May.

The city paid Bloomington theater manager Danielle McClelland $18,800 to create a business plan for The Crump, which she submitted in early December.

Jayne Farber, who had been an arts district consultant for the city, was paid $70,861 from 2012 to 2014 and McCoy was paid $59,928 in 2013 for services related to The Crump, according to records from the city clerk-treasurer’s office.

After conducting the study, Jones & Phillips came back with several conceptual plans to renovate the historic theater, one of which was recommended to the Columbus Redevelopment Commission by The Crump steering committee at a cost of about $10.8 million.

Since then, no person or group has stepped forward, including city officials, interested in renovating The Crump.

Phillips said The Crump has value in the way that Columbus residents, who are familiar with the theater, personally feel about it.

“Part of the value is its heritage in the community,” Phillips said.

Phillips has been a consultant on hundreds of theater projects including remodeling and new construction plus educational, community and multimedia projects.

The fact that The Crump has been closed for a year could reduce the odds that a developer will come in and inject money into the building, he said.

The Columbus Fire Department ruled last March the theater couldn’t be used unless safety issues were addressed.

As its condition deteriorates, “everything they do becomes more expensive,” Phillips said.

A “long-game” project

Mark Dollase, Indiana Landmarks vice president of preservation services, said old theaters don’t get a full restoration very often.

“If something isn’t done soon, it could be lost,” he said.

Dollase said the number of vacant theaters available in the state — plus the size, condition and ownership of the theater — are all important factors in trying to determine how to market the building.

Indiana Landmarks is currently not involved with The Crump project, however.

“If indeed we are able to secure a buyer … then we pay the seller the amount they are looking for. We make that payment to them. Then we own it for about five minutes and we record protective covenants on the deed,” he said. “We can ensure it doesn’t get demolished or other things don’t happen.”

Dollase said he has been in communication with people for years who might be interested in The Crump and continues to try and find interested parties.

He and McCoy will be working together, although McCoy said there is no timetable in getting The Crump to market.

The Capital Foundation is working carefully and diligently on potential next steps for The Crump and McCoy said now is not a time to panic about its future.

“This community has a long history of playing the long game on a lot of things and winning the long game,” he said. “This is a long-game project.”

About the Crump

The Crump Theatre, opened in 1889, is at 425 Third St. in downtown Columbus. The theater currently has seating for 632.

The Crump has been closed since January 2014. The last event to take place in the building was a New Year’s Eve party on Dec. 31, 2013.

In March 2014, Columbus Fire Chief Dave Allmon said the building will remain closed until specific safety hazards are corrected. Lafayette-based theater consultants Jones & Phillips Associates, hired to study the Crump and its future uses, found hazards including:

  • Lack of a fire sprinkler system.
  • Lack of functioning fire escapes.
  • A stage floor that does not meet current structural codes.
  • A mechanical room with water damage, making it unsafe for people or equipment.