Brookville and Lawrenceburg officials have come to the rescue of the Brookville Theatre, just a few months before Jan. 1, when new movies will be circulated in digital format only, requiring expensive projectors.
The Lawrenceburg City Council approved a $300,000 Lawrenceburg Regional Economic Development Grant about a month ago to upgrade the single-screen facility, reports Grant Hughes, the grant program director.
Instead of awarding the dollars because of jobs creation, “this grant was revitalizing a downtown area that was losing a lot of its population and businesses,” he explains.
Rick Bender, who has owned and operated the business since 1988, says, “I was thrilled to hear it. The theater has been running in the red for the past five years or so. This digital thing was going to make the decision to shut the theater down ... Now... it will stay open.”
At one time, the single-screen theater at 16 W. Fifth St. contained over 400 seats. It now has half that number. He reflects, “The big single-screen theaters may be a thing of the past .... We’re going to redo the inside and put two screens in.” One theater will seat about 150, the other around 75. Starting times will be 15-30 minutes apart because the lobby is fairly small. “We’re going to go digital on both screens” and add surround sound. “You have to.” Screens, seats, wall coverings and carpeting all will be new.
On the exterior, “we’re going to redo the old marquee.” It will be cleaned up and painted and the classic neon sign and sidewalk will be repaired.
Bender hopes to open the renovated facility by spring. “There’s a lot to do here. I’ve got an architect working on the codes, distance between seats, fire ratings, soundproof walls, ADA compliance, before we can start getting bids. It will shut down during the renovation.”
The grant application was submitted by the Brookville Redevelopment Commission. While BRC (President Jon Hancher, Vice President Todd Thackery, Secretary Tammy Davis, Emily Whalbring, Bill Thompson and Bob Jewell) is overseeing the project, the town of Brookville (President Michael Biltz, Vice President Rene Stivers, Sam Schuck, Darrel Flaspohler and Bob O’Bryan) is the fiscal agent and will be handling the money, explains Stivers.
“Jud McMillin was behind this whole thing,” Bender reports. After the owner told the District 68 state representative he was concerned about the cost of digital equipment, McMillin told him, “‘Let me try to do something for you.’ We’ve worked on this for a year. If it hadn’t been for Jud’s efforts, this theater would be closed or closing.”
Stivers recalls that Brookville leaders journeyed to Lawrenceburg several times for meetings before the grant was finalized. “Jud spoke most of the time. The bottom line on this: We don’t want to lose our theater.” He added that in addition to the riverboat revenue-sharing grant money, Bender will invest in the theater’s upgrade as well.
Ultimately, how will this money help downtown Brookville? Bender believes, “With a new and improved theater and two screens ... we’re going to have more people coming to town. That’s the idea behind the whole thing. It will help everything from the local drug stores to gas stations to pizza places” and other restaurants. Instead of showing one movie three times a week (Friday-Sunday), there will be two movies shown once Sunday-Thursday with early and late shows on Friday and Saturday nights, for a total of 18 showings a week.
Stivers says, “I think it’s just another step forward in making downtown Brookville more attractive and accessible not only for the county and town (residents), but the tourists. When you’ve got 1.25 million people coming through Brookville annually, we just want them to come into town and have a good time and go out to eat and spend a little bit of money.”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at email@example.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.
Town assets added After the Franklin County Community Foundation collected $65,750 in contributions in a two-week period from the town of Brookville; Franklin County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission; Franklin County Economic Development Commission; FCCF; businesses; organizations; and individuals as matching funds, it nabbed a rare $50,000 Indiana Office of Tourism Development place-based investment grant in April 2012, reports FCCF executive director Shelly Lunsford. Most of the $115,750 was used to construct a new public plaza near the Brookville Theatre in the area west of Progress Street between 4th and 5th streets, which provides an overlook of the Whitewater River and informal green space and hardscape areas. A major cleanup and a partial clearing of trees on the hillside west of Progress Street was followed by construction of a common area, curb and sidewalk and the addition of benches and potted plants. In addition to creating a river view, it could serve in the future as a trailhead for the community's bike trail system, which initially could connect downtown to the Whitewater Canal Trail's Tecumseh Landing area on the Whitewater River's west fork, and later to the trail section extending from Brookville to Metamora. According to Stivers, a bike path is a possibility. "We're dealing with the railroad to try to get a right of way through there." With remaining dollars overseen by FCCF, public seating and landscaping were added to the town park. Lunsford says, "It's almost like a serpentine wall. You can sit there and see the east fork of the river." Brookville Main Street leaders will spend the rest on downtown beautification efforts, including trash cans, in the next few months.