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Study outlines ways to make Crump viable

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At least three survival strategies for the Crump Theatre will be revealed Monday by consultants who have evaluated the 19th century performance venue’s potential.

Findings from Lafayette-based theater consultant Jones & Phillips Associates will include more information than initially anticipated, said local arts consultant Jayne Farber, who is working on the project representing the Columbus Arts District.

“They have come back with so many wonderful things,” she said. “They’re really just great opportunities.”

Recommendations from the $95,000 study will be revealed at a special meeting of the Columbus Redevelopment Commission at 6 p.m. Monday in the City Hall council chambers.

It will be the culmination of months of brainstorming to determine how the facility could sustain itself as part of the downtown’s newly created arts district.

In October, consultants reported that the 634-seat Crump doesn’t fit the community’s needs for performance spaces:

A smaller, intimate theater with 350 to 450 seats.

A larger performing arts space for touring productions and acts with about 1,200 seats.

The theater lacks handicap-accessible bathrooms, has no restrooms backstage, has limited space on the stage wings and lacks loading dock space for performers. According to preliminary study results, the stage house and floor are deteriorating. Performers must bring in their own lighting and sound equipment, which makes the Crump unsuitable for some performers.

The consultants were asked to analyze the Crump as a performance venue and as a location for community meetings, lectures and videoconferencing. The possibility of a cinema was to be evaluated along with available office space for ticketing and staff, concession space, lobby needs, retail space and rental opportunities.

Last fall, the consultants — along with a Columbus steering committee made up of representatives of the arts, business and government communities — came up with 12 scenarios that could breathe new life into the facility. The ideas were then whittled to five and were expected to filter into at least three preferred scenarios to be presented Monday.

The cost to transform the Crump into a viable theater that can survive in downtown Columbus could reach the millions, said Hutch Schumaker, president of the Columbus Capital Foundation, which has owned the facility since 1994.

That price forecast isn’t new. It was mentioned as far back as 1996 when an earlier feasibility study was done by architecture firm Joyner and Marshall.

While money will ultimately be the key factor in revitalizing the Crump, Farber said the quality of the new study coupled with a need for a performing arts venue downtown should excite the Columbus community.

“The community has known about the Crump forever; and I think now that the Sears space has bubbled up to the top and the arts district was formed officially a year ago, I think there is a greater awareness in the community for all things art and cultural,” she said. “I think this is just one more thing the community at large could be interested in. And the recession is over.”

Having a permanent home for performing arts in Columbus is something the community desperately needs, said Janie Gordon, steering committee member and Columbus North High School music and choir program director.

Gordon said the information she has seen from the feasibility study is promising and something she thinks will be the catalyst for revitalizing the Crump.

“Personally, I am very optimistic about the study and how it was done. I’m also optimistic about the plan we’re ready to move forward with,” she said. “My hope is that the community and everyone will be behind it.”

Farber and the theater consultants will have several parts to the study to present to the redevelopment commission, including graphics and models, Gordon said.

She said the steering committee and consultants have put many hours of research into the study and that it’s the most thorough study that has ever been done on the Crump.

“With everything that’s gone on before, I truly think this has been done correctly,” she said. “If it’s going to happen, then I think it’s going to happen now.”

The Crump Theatre was built in 1874 and converted into an opera house in 1889. It was used as a movie theater before its final incarnation as a performance venue.

Since Columbus Capital took ownership in the mid-1990s, more than $300,000 in renovations have been completed, including roof repair, facade restoration and other basic maintenance.

Indiana rock star John Mellencamp performed in the Crump in 2008 as part of an A&E Biography Channel documentary, “Homeward Bound: John Mellencamp.”

Since the Mellencamp concert, performances have been few and not enough to pay the theater’s utility bills.

Farber said the heating bills alone can run about $6,000 a month during the winter.

The theater has been closed since a Jan. 1 New Year’s event, although that’s normal to save on heating costs.

A public information meeting is being planned at the Crump, Farber said. At that point, it will be up to the community to decide what happens with the theater, she said.

Usually, the Crump would reopen in mid-April, Schumaker said. But with the possibility of renovation looming, the owners will wait to see what happens at the meetings before booking more acts into the facility.

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