Leaders say a functional Crump Theatre could be open within two years

An interior view of the Crump Theatre on Dec. 13.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic

The beloved Crump Theatre has been declared by experts as structurally sound, including its balcony, and could realistically open to the public in a safe, functional and restored form within two years. Leaders say that’s the possibility while skipping the grand, time-consuming, $12 million or more facelift that some consultants have highlighted over the years.

As part of a smaller plan, portions of it probably will open by spring to nationwide groups such as those wanting to investigate paranormal activity there, according to Jessica Schnepp.

She’s now the paid project manager at the 132-year-old venue that has been the focus of on-again, off-again campaigns to save it for more than a decade.

“We’ve been approaching this in baby steps,” Schnepp said. “Our top priority right now is a new roof.”

She figures that to cost about $60,000, with one-third of those funds already collected from public donations. However, a recent donation will match dollar-for-dollar the next $25,000 of giving for the new roof. Organizers are putting together a Raise the Roof fundraising campaign even now.

The 605-seat venue (or 700 capacity for standing room only) recently netted $18,000 from a fundraiser it shared at The Commons with the Tony Stewart Foundation. A cocktail hour for that gathering was held in The Crump lobby.

“I was really pleased with that (figure), considering that we’ve still been in the midst of a pandemic,” Schnepp said.

Carmel’s Arsee Engineers Inc., which also has worked on the First Christian Church tower, recently completed its Crump structural survey.

Strong support for a Crump resurgence — the umpteenth such movement just in the past 20 years alone — has been building the past couple of years. The latest push has been fueled partly by the structure making Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered structures list in 2019. The building has been mostly closed to the general public since 2014.

Public reaction on social media to the latest push for a building resurrection has ranged from hopeful to cynical, with some doubters wondering where needed money for repairs and later upkeep will originate. Other efforts have fizzled, they reason, so now they’re asking why this one will succeed.

“We’ve definitely had to address that a few times,” said Rob Crider, a Columbus native and one of Schnepp’s most dedicated volunteers.

One element that’s different is having a paid staff person in Schnepp to consistently work with funders, donors, contractors, and more. Her extensive and eclectic background includes everything from construction to fundraising.

The Crump’s last big moment in the public spotlight was Sept. 23, 2008, when Seymour native John Mellencamp played a sold-out concert for a cable television special, “Homeward Bound,” highlighting that the venue hosted his first concert.

The nonprofit Columbus Capital Foundation still owns the building, and technically still has it for sale — but with a narrow focus.

“If someone wants to buy it to make the spot into a parking lot, the answer is no,” said the foundation’s Hutch Schumaker.

He praises the movement that Schnepp has helped trigger, and the work she has helped unfold, from a mostly new marquee to upgrading no-touch, energy efficient restroom amenities to reviving the electronic-eye water fountains — courtesy of Columbus native Kevin Silva — that operated 80 years ago.

“We’re going about this totally differently than before,” Schnepp said. “This is much more grass roots oriented.”

She added that some refurbishing steps include installing money-saving LED lighting to shrink operating costs.

“Even if the funding isn’t there for top-of-the-line everything, we at least currently have some ability to create new experiences in this building,” Schnepp said.

Schumaker and Schnepp agree on taking a basic approach in getting the venue open, rather than waiting for millions of dollars in grants to move forward.

“That approach is incredibly refreshing,” Schumaker said. “And it’s where I have been coming from for forever. The Crump is about local programming and what local arts groups might want to use it for.

“It’s like our community auditorium, and I think it can grow into something incredibly cool, and also something that probably every echelon of the community can appreciate and use.”

Schumaker said he has been impressed with Schnepp’s work and progress.

“In my estimation, she has gotten about two years’ worth of work done in about the last seven or eight months,” Schumaker said. “And she’s never met a stranger and is unafraid to ask for help or money.

“She is really doing an incredible job getting things put back together.”

Schumaker said his vision of a Crump that reopens is a structure with with dependable heating and air conditioning “and a building that meets all fire code standards.”

“We can build and rebuild as more interest and funds build,” he said. “And you keep going until you find people with deep enough pockets to say, ‘We’ve got to take this project to the next level.”