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Crump theatre: Time weighs on finance options

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The Crump Theatre remains closed after reports that the aging building was not up to code. FILE PHOTO
The Crump Theatre remains closed after reports that the aging building was not up to code. FILE PHOTO

Whether the Crump Theatre is renovated or sold may be determined by the deteriorating facility’s dwindling bank account or whether city officials are willing to spend millions in public funds soon to save it.

The city’s redevelopment commission tabled two funding requests from the theater’s steering committee and sent them to the Columbus City Council:

  • $10.8 million to renovate the Crump.
  • $20,000 in redevelopment funds to pay a consultant to develop a theater business plan.

Any city spending in excess of $500,000 must be approved by the council.

Mayor Kristen Brown, who presides over the redevelopment commission, is recommending a combination of public and private funds be used to pay for the Crump renovation. The business plan would give the city an operational plan to keep the theater open and show how it could be sustained.

“If it was going to be done privately, it would have been done years ago,” said Brown, who has supported renovating the 125-year-old Crump as the centerpiece of the downtown arts district.

The Crump has been closed since the end of December and is being kept closed because of fire code and structural concerns.

If the funding were approved by the commission and council, Brown said ownership of the building could change from the Columbus Capital Foundation to the city, but that wouldn’t be determined until after a business plan study is completed.

The city council consensus is that council members probably won’t want to spend millions in public money on the Crump project, council President Dascal Bunch said.

What’s next

Mayor Kristen Brown has asked the Crump steering committee to be present at the June 3 city council meeting to present all the information they have on renovating the theater. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 123 Washington St.

Brown said the redevelopment commission will act on paying for a consultant to do a business plan study on the Crump once a price and company have been selected.

She said that would take place at the next redevelopment commission meeting at 6 p.m. June 16 at City Hall.

“It’s a shot in the dark whether it can be successful. Right now, I can’t see how it would pay for itself,” Bunch said.

For the Crump to be successful and recoup the millions that are being requested, it would have to be rented out and used six to seven days a week, he said.

“At this point, I don’t think it’s going to fly,” said Bunch, who was at Monday’s commission meeting to hear the steering committee’s proposal.

But Bunch said opinions could change depending on what the steering committee presents.

There is about $400 left in the Crump banking account to pay June expenses for the theater, said Tracy Souza, president and CEO of the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

The foundation oversees the Capital Foundation Board, which owns the Crump. It costs about $1,500 a month to pay for heating, water, trash pickup and insurance for the theater, she said.

Souza said she plans to ask the Columbus Capital Foundation board on June 2 to raise funds for the Crump, possibly shut the utilities off indefinitely or look at other options including selling the building.

In December 2013, the Columbus Redevelopment Commission signed a $95,520 contract with Lafayette-based theater consultant group Jones & Phillips Associates to study the Crump and possible future uses.

The Jones & Phillips report revealed the Crump had structural and safety issues.

The proposed $10.8 million Crump renovation plan calls for a 450-seat renovated theater with an expanded lobby, new handicap-accessible public restrooms and dressing rooms, greater stage depth, an improved show load-in and improved acoustics, said Bob Crider, steering committee spokesman. The Crump has 632 seats now.

The scenario would have the building’s footprint expand to the east and south to allow for the additional lobby and support space.

Renovating the Crump into the new size would meet the needs of the community, and it’s what the public wants, Crider said.

The 450-seat proposal, one of five alternatives presented by Jones & Phillips, was chosen by the committee because of the positive feedback for that option, compared with the others, Crider said.

Scenarios announced in March included renovating the Crump in its current form, two options that would demolish the Crump and build a new theater with 1,000 seats or 1,200 seats, and two options would involve the vacant Sears site being revamped to add a new performing space.

Deadline pressure

Sending the steering committee’s requests to the council and then having the council return the matter to the redevelopment commission could delay planning by two weeks to a month because the redevelopment commission doesn’t meet again until June 16.

The city is also on a deadline when considering how to pay for Crump renovations.

Brown said the renovations could be paid for through a combination of private donations and tax-increment financing, or TIF, district funds, and that more than half of the cost would be from public funds.

Property within a designated area, or TIF district, is taxed based on its assessed value. New investment, completion of projects or improvements to property can lead to higher assessed values and more property tax revenue. It’s the amount of the increase that can be used for development in that TIF district instead of being given to other taxing units in the district, such as schools, libraries or townships.

The Central TIF district fund, where the Crump funding would be drawn from, has $5,515,748 in it, Columbus Clerk-Treasurer Luann Welmer said.

A new state law requires city redevelopment bodies to know what projects they will appropriate TIF funds for by July 15, Redevelopment Director Heather Pope said in an earlier interview.

A decision on TIF funding for the Crump would have to be made before the July deadline, according to the law.

In the meantime, the Columbus Capital Foundation board plans to meet within the next few weeks to discuss the Crump and its finances, Souza said.

The foundation’s biggest issue after receiving the latest round of bills for the Crump is “we only have $400,” Souza said.

Assistant Managing Editor Julie McClure contributed to this report.

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