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Editorial: Crump Theatre study provides means to finally settle old issue

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COLUMBUS’ historic Crump Theatre is arguably one of the most studied edifices in the state of Indiana. Obituary notices have been written repeatedly over the past two decades for the institution that dates to the 1870s.

Those notices have been withdrawn repeatedly through a variety of efforts that have kept it in operation, but only on a modified scale.

Now the community has reached a critical stage in its relationship with the building, and the latest study about its future should be considered the ultimate deciding factor in whether it can serve a useful purpose.

The building already has been the subject of a number of studies, but the bottom line on each of them was that any kind of rehabilitative plan would cost millions of dollars. Since 1987 when its owners in Franklin sought bids for its demolition because of falling revenues, the building has been in a virtual state of limbo.

Over the past quarter-century it has escaped the wrecking ball because of a number of community efforts that were based more on nostalgia than business plans. Its future is one of the core elements in Mayor Kristen Brown’s overall mission to strengthen arts and entertainment in the downtown, and the study now underway should be viewed as a meaningful road map for the community to follow in the future.

One important element in the study is a $95,520 contract signed by the Columbus Redevelopment Commission with Jones & Phillips Associates Inc. of Lafayette, a firm that has been involved in the restoration of a number of aging theaters in the state.

The consultants are part of a two-pronged effort in this latest evaluation. A steering committee of representatives of the arts, business and government communities is seeking local opinion on structural options for the building and how they could be developed into a viable use.

Both approaches are valuable in that they should present to the community down-to-earth evaluations of the building and how it fits into the city’s future.

It appears that the course being charted is a far cry from the environment of nostalgia that guided earlier Save the Crump efforts. While understandable, that yearning for the good old days of high school stage plays and Saturday afternoon matinees featuring cowboy heroes was not enough to pay the bills.

The Crump and the community have been kept in a state of limbo over the past two decades because of the understandable reluctance to do away with a part of history. Unfortunately, despite noble efforts by several individuals and groups, no one has developed a cohesive business plan or come forward with the necessary capital to ensure its future.

That is why this latest study is worth the effort. Hopefully it will present the community with a realistic evaluation of whether there is a potential and critical role for this institution and provide directions on how that can be achieved.

It is not the final say. A significant amount of financing will be needed if it is to have a future. Business plans must be put forth, and local entities will have to chart courses for relationships with other organizations that provide areas for people to gather.

The bottom line is that the community has to be realistic about whether the Crump Theatre has a future in Columbus. This study could be a valuable tool in coming to that conclusion.

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