A steering committee is leaning toward recommending an $11 million renovation of the Crump Theatre.
Mayor Kristen Brown said she drew that conclusion from discussions with steering committee members, who will make a recommendation May 19 to the Columbus Redevelopment Commission about the theater’s future.
That version of the theater would have 350 to 450 seats and modern theater amenities including state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment, stage modifications and acoustic improvements.
The 125-year-old theater, which seats 634 at capacity, is considered too big for smaller shows and too small for big touring companies.
The steering committee, working with Lafayette-based theater design group Jones & Phillips Associates, came up with as many as 12 scenarios last year to bring the Crump back to life. Those scenarios were narrowed to a feasibility study with five proposals presented in March to the redevelopment commission.
Heather Pope, the city’s director of redevelopment and a member of the Crump steering committee, said it’s time to make a decision about the theater, which has
been closed since the end of December.
Jones & Phillips listed numerous concerns with fire- and building-code issues, and Fire Chief Dave Allmon said he would not allow the theater to reopen until those were addressed.
“We’ve decided, Mayor Brown has decided, that this was going to be the last study,” she said. “We were either going to do something with it, or we’re going to get rid of it.”
Pope said a new state law requires city redevelopment bodies to know what projects they will appropriate TIF funds for by July 15.
The city will need to know if one of those projects will be the Crump renovation, she said.
An encore presentation of the Crump Theatre feasibility study was made Thursday night, followed by a question-and-answer session.
The scenarios involving the Crump included renovating the theater, leveling it and building a new theater on its footprint, or building a new theater at the former Sears site, also downtown.
While no decisions were made at Thursday night’s public hearing about what to do next, several residents had their own take on the Crump’s future.
Local performer and arts organizer Tim Grimm said he would like to see the Crump renovated into a small performance space, something he thinks is needed in the community and will succeed.
“The restoration of the Crump can serve in part as a lighthouse for this community in terms of arts,” he said. “The Crump is one thing. The Sears is another thing. Where does the community find a balance?” he asked.
He said he would bet that a 350- to 450-seat renovated Crump could start the entire process in the right direction.
At the end of the March presentation, the consultants revealed a plan to turn the Sears site into a performing arts center with a 1,200-seat auditorium, conference room meeting space and lobby areas.
Part of that proposal would be to renovate the Crump into a 450-seat, multiuse venue where smaller shows could take place and food with cocktails could be served.
Gary Robbins, who has worked in the theater and restaurant business, said he thinks the Crump should be turned into a theater-restaurant, regardless of what happens on the Sears site.
He said he isn’t in favor of any of the scenarios presented by the theater consultants because none has a way of generating revenue when the theater isn’t booked.
“All of those are beautiful. In time, they will get to a point when, if they do quality shows that keep the public attracted, it will finally pay for itself,” he said. “But what’s going to support it on a daily basis?”
Those with experience in bringing a community theater back to life said Columbus could support a renovated Crump.
Columbus should buy into the idea that the community needs and could support a Crump renovation, said Rob Shilts, executive director of the historic Artcraft Theatre in Franklin.
“I’m hoping what you’ll be able to do is save the Crump. I think you have some fantastic opportunities,” he said. “We don’t see this as competition. We see this as making your city better.”
Mike Harding, who owns the historic Pixy Theatre in Edinburgh, said most of his customers come from the Columbus area to see a show. He also thinks Columbus could support its own theater and should avoid tearing down the Crump.
“People have a visceral, very emotional tie to the theater. That is something no other building in town has,” he said. “Get emotional about it because it’s worth saving.”
Students weigh in
A group of Indiana University graduate students on Friday presented a study to city officials that they created for a competition about renovating theaters. The students chose to study the Crump.
Their ideas on a renovated Crump would cost about
$25 million and would include a new performance theater with 522 seats, a ballroom, a coffee shop open seven days a week and an updated stage.
While the students’ work wasn’t done with the intent that it could be implemented, arts district consultant Jayne Farber said she will include the students’ ideas in her discussions with the steering committee.
Although the scheduled public meetings on the Crump have concluded, city officials are still accepting public input on the future use for the historical downtown building.