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Capitol Theatre/Burlington, IA

The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

July 19, 2010 Monday

Capitol Theater eligible for $1M grant: Foundation to talk to city council about support.

By Nicholas Bergin, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

July 19–The opportunity to apply for a $1 million I-Jobs grant has members of the Capitol Theater Foundation scrambling to line up city support and possible financing to renovate the long disused downtown Capital Theater into a performance and film venue.

"It’s an opportunity we have never had before and likely never will have again," said Downtown Partners Inc. Executive Director Steve Frevert.

If approved, the grant would make a significant dent in the $2.8 million price tag for renovating and equipping the theater and building next door, which will be used as office and dressing room space.

State officials have made $13.7 million in I-Jobs funds available for projects in Iowa Main Street communities. State Main Street invited the organizers of 33 projects to apply. Of those, 27 submitted an application, and 23 are under consideration, including the Capitol Theater project, Frevert said.

When the Capitol Theater Foundation first applied for the I-Jobs grant, it asked for $410,000. But during a meeting July 12 in Des Moines, state Main Street officials told the foundation it should apply for more money, enough to get the project rolling and see it completed — which was determined to be $1 million, said foundation chairwoman Becky Anderson.

Foundation members must decide by Wednesday whether to pursue the grant and quickly get details of its plans to state Main Street officials, who will decide by the end of the week which projects to recommend be funded.

"This is not a given that we would get this grant, but Main Street Iowa looks very favorably on this project. They really want to see it happen, and that is why they have encouraged us to ask for even a greater amount than we had intended," Frevert said.

To be recommended for the grant, the foundation must prove a commitment and ability to bring the renovation of the Capitol Theater to fruition.

"Main Street Iowa wants the Capital Theater Foundation’s commitment to see the project through. And Main Street Iowa has said that city support will help prove we can make this happen," Frevert said.

Although a request for city support will not be on the council’s agenda for tonight’s meeting, the foundation plans to bring the issue before city council members during the period allocated for public comments.

The grant does not require a local match, and the foundation is not asking for money from the city at this time, Frevert said.

"That is part of the beauty of it. We are not asking the city for money at this point. We are asking for some sign of support. There is no match required. That is why in my mind it would be awful to have to walk away from this grant," Frevert said.

Prior to the council meeting, foundation members plan to meet with local bankers this afternoon to discuss financing options for the project.

Also, the foundation plans to hold a meeting Wednesday with city and community members to discuss the level of support there is for the project.

Interested community members are welcome to attend the meeting, which will take place at noon Wednesday at the Greater Burlington Partnership offices, 610 N. Fourth St. Suite 200.

If the I-Jobs grant is approved, foundation members plan to pay for the rest of the renovation with $94,000 State Historical Society of Iowa grant, $368,000 in historic tax credit reimbursements, by financing $338,000 and fund raising $1 million.

The foundation has hired consulting firm Convergent Nonprofit Solutions of Atlanta, Ga., to do a fundraising feasibility study.

The 1930s-era Art-Deco Capitol Theater was closed in 1977. The Capitol Theater Foundation has been working since its formation in 2005 to restore the theater to its historic glory days as a center of entertainment.

If restored, the theater could become the centerpiece of downtown, Frevert said.

"Not only is (the Capital Theater) an architectural gem in our downtown, it’s really one of the best Art-Deco buildings in the state. We’re talking about something that could greatly increase the cultural vitality of our downtown. It would give people a reason to come visit, to stay around to visit our restaurants and do some shopping. And the pieces are falling in place for this (renovation) to happen," Frevert said.

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