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October 10, 2012

Fox Theatre gets boost toward deadline with loan from city

PITTSBURG, Kan. — The Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation has until Oct. 31 to generate enough pledges to match a $500,000 federal grant for renovations to be made to the historic building in downtown Pittsburg.

Tuesday night, the City Commission moved the foundation $45,000 closer to its goal by approving a forgivable loan on the recommendation of the Economic Development Advisory Council.

“We will be two-thirds of the way to our goal with these dollars,” Vonnie Corsini, executive director of the foundation, told the commission. “We assure you, we will be good stewards of this investment.”

The loan, which carries a 3 percent interest rate, will come from a federal Community Development Block Grant. It need not be paid back so long as the foundation complies with criteria outlined in its application, including hiring at least one person and completing specified restoration projects.

Those projects include a new electrical system, emergency lighting, facade demolition and improvement, and a new heating and air-conditioning system, Corsini said.

In 2010, the foundation signed an agreement that secured $500,000 from the Save America’s Treasures grant program through the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. Such grants must be used for preservation and rehabilitation projects, and they must be matched locally by the foundation dollar for dollar, according to Corsini.

In recent years, the foundation has made strides in renovations with two grants from the Kansas Heritage Trust Fund, grants from the local Pritchett Trust and private donations. The foundation has spent $583,000 on capital projects, including a new roof, tuck-pointing on the south and west walls, mold removal, asbestos removal, repairs to the north wall, and fixing water issues in the basement that led to interior damage upstairs.

The Colonial Fox was built before the height of the traditional movie palace years (1925 to 1930), and between two world wars. It was one of several theaters that anchored Pittsburg’s downtown entertainment and nightlife district.

The theater closed to the public in 1985 and had fallen into disrepair. In 2006, a group of volunteers took up the theater’s cause, and by 2008 it had earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

In her presentation to the City Commission on Tuesday night, Corsini showed architectural renderings that paint the Fox as a cornerstone in what would become a vibrant downtown. The business plan projects September 2013 as the opening month.

The plan for the 620-seat theater is to eventually present 504 screenings of films per year, including nearly 300 art house (foreign, documentary and independent) films and 215 classics, and to present 100 live events per year — 77 local arts groups and 23 national touring artists.

According to economic impact studies, the theater could bring as many as 10,000 people to downtown Pittsburg each year.

“We can project definitive economic benefits,” Corsini said. As for the revenue the theater is projected to generate in the next five years, $103,367 would be in direct sales tax proceeds and $5,646 in new guest collections.

“I gotta tell you, I admire your tenacity and your board’s tenacity,” Commissioner Marty Beezley told Corsini. “I have no doubt at all that that $45,000 will be spent the very best way it can be spent.”

Floor plans

INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR architectural renderings and floor plans of planned renovations at the Colonial Fox Theatre are available at www.colonialfox.org/restoration-vision.html.

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