Capitol Theater / Burlington, Iowa

The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

August 9, 2011 Tuesday

City sees Capitol pitch

By Nicholas Bergin, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

Aug. 09–Supporters of the almost $3 million renovation of the downtown Capitol Theater want the city of Burlington to give an additional $30,000 to the project as a gesture of support for the arts and economic development.

"We want to prove the city is a part of this, too. All donors will be acknowledged out on the sidewalk on stars," said Becky Anderson, chairwoman of the Capitol Theater Foundation. "I think Burlington needs to step up and be a part of this. It is a community building that is going to give back to the community and the city is going to benefit."

Anderson made her comments during Monday’s Burlington City Council meeting.

The council plans to vote next week on the proposed donation, which would put the city’s total contribution at $50,000. The council approved $20,000 in 2005 to help the Capitol Theater Foundation purchase the art deco-style theater at 209 N. Third St.

The Capitol Theater last hosted audiences in 1977, after which it sat neglected and slowly deteriorated.

The non-profit theater foundation expects to reopen the building in May 2012 to host small- to mid-sized live performances, meetings and films. The adjacent building at 211 N. Third St. will house dressing rooms, restrooms and office space.

Critics argue using city money to renovate the theater is essentially funding a venue that will compete with Memorial Auditorium.

Councilman Christopher Reed said several residents have voiced such reservations to him.

"If we give money to you, then we’re sort of taking it away from ourselves, too," Reed said.

The 410-seat theater is a smaller venue than the auditorium, which can seat more than 2,000. Foundation members say the size difference means the theater and auditorium will attract different events.

Anderson noted there is the potential for the theater to take one or two events away from the auditorium, but said that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

"I believe the more the better. If one (venue) canceled out the other, there would not be Broadway Street in New York where you have all the theaters together," Anderson said.

Councilman Bob Fleming, who supports donating the $30,000, agreed.

"What is wrong with competition?" Fleming said.

Councilman Matt Murray said the theater may free up the auditorium to book more large events and music concerts.

"This actually could make the auditorium start thinking in new ways. How can we attract bigger venues that are going to bring bigger dollars that are not necessarily going to compete with what you (the Capitol Theater) are doing but actually utilize the auditorium," Murray said.

Looking at the economic development potential of the theater, "it far outweighs the one or two events might be taken from the auditorium," Anderson said. "It will have a bigger impact on the downtown than you can imagine."

Theater supporters expect it to generate nearly $1 million annually in business downtown, which could create as many as 67 new jobs and $4.23 million in annual overall economic impact, according to figures supplied by the Outcomes Lab, a division of Convergent Nonprofit Solutions of Atlanta Ga., an organization the Capitol Theater Foundation hired to assist in fundraising and promotional efforts.

The theater already has begun booking events for June 2012.

The city’s Economic Development Committee voted unanimously June 30 to recommend donating the $30,000 from the 5 percent of sales-tax funds the city sets aside for economic development. The fund has $253,350 available, according to City Manager Doug Worden.

The theater foundation has raised donations and pledges of about $890,000 toward its $1 million goal, Anderson said.

In addition to the fundraising goal, about $1.77 million has been secured for the project, including $93,000 in historic preservation grants, a $1 million state I-Jobs grant, $368,000 in state tax credits and $313,000 raised prior to November.

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