By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — If all goes well, the historic Goshen Theater could be under new ownership by the end of this year. Exactly what will happen with the theater after that change occurs, however, is still very much in flux.
Gina Leichty, board president of Goshen Theater Inc., went before the Goshen Redevelopment Commission Tuesday to provide an in-depth project update and timeline for a planned revitalization of the more than 100-year-old theater. And if what she had to say is any indication, there could be some big things in store for Goshen’s historic downtown gem.
The origin of the proposed plan begins back in mid-2011, when Downtown Goshen Inc. received a $35,000 grant from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund to conduct an architectural and feasibility study to determine the feasibility of restoring the aging theater.
The result of that study was a recommendation for more than $7 million in upgrades to the building that would bolster the theater’s usefulness and allow it the versatility to book a wide range of activities and performances more than 200 days/nights per year.
Where to go from here
According to Leichty, the year-long study was initially brought on by the fact that the church organization that currently owns the structure, Downtown@808, is looking to sell the building, preferably to a local non-profit entity that would be able to support and maintain the historic site for the enjoyment of future generations.
“They looked at the mechanical and architectural needs of the building, they did a market study, and they also did a business plan for a revitalized theater,” Leichty said of the study. “All three of those indicators came back positive, and they encouraged us to move forward. So what I’m here to talk about today is where we’re planning to go with this project from here.”
One of the first things Leichty and her group needed to do to prepare for the desired take-over of the theater was to officially formalize their organization.
“Until earlier this year, the Goshen Theater Task Force had been the main entity that was working on the revitalization project, and they were a subcommittee at Downtown Goshen Inc.,” Leichty said. “But that task force determined to actually formally become an entity (Goshen Theater Inc.) that will hopefully ultimately own and operate the building. So that was one of the first things that we did. We applied to become an entity in April of 2013. We also applied for our 501c3 (not-for-profit) status.”
With regard to the not-for-profit status, Leichty said she is still waiting for official notification from the IRS, though with the recent federal government shutdown still in play, she anticipates the group could be in for a bit of a wait before word of possible approval comes their way.
“With the government shutdown, it may be a little longer before we hear anything,” Leichty said. “Usually that takes six to nine months, but we’ll see how things go over the next few weeks.”
Next on the to-do list for the group was to craft a memorandum of understanding with Downtown@808 giving Goshen Theater Inc. the right of first refusal to purchase the theater building.
“So our plan is to come up with a purchase agreement before the end of the year,” Leichty said. “We’re actually hoping to have that completed sometime in the next month. We are in the process of negotiating a sale price with them and agreeable terms on the purchase of that building. So once we have that done, we’ll know the full fundraising amount that we need to procure in order to buy the building.”
Adding some urgency to that process is the knowledge that while originally Downtown@808 had indicated it would be interested in occupying and utilizing the building for another couple of years, last December the church announced that it would like to accelerate that timeline significantly.
“So we’re looking at not only raising the funds for a full renovation of the theater, but also some interim operations,” Leichty said. “We feel like it would be a great disservice to the downtown to have the theater closed for the next couple of years while we’re looking at doing this major capital campaign. So we’re going to also try to simultaneously raise some funding for interim operations as well as buying the building and then rehabbing it to its full potential.”
Moving on to discuss what she called the group’s long range capital campaign for the theater, Leichty noted that Goshen Theater Inc. has successfully secured enough funding through the Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to fund a capital campaign planning study, which will be conducted by Laudick Brown & Associates of Indianapolis.
“We looked at a lot of proposals, and felt like theirs was the best value for what we were looking for,” Leichty said. “So they should start working actually in October of this year, but won’t be done with their full capital campaign planning study until June of next year.”
Leichty said one of the major factors that will likely slow the process down a bit is the fact that many of the city’s major donors don’t stay in Goshen over the winter, meaning that Laudick Brown & Associates won’t really be able to get a true picture of just how much capital is actually out there and available for the project until next spring.
“So by June we should have a fairly solid assessment of what the fundraising feasibility for that project will be, and that will really determine for our group the scope of the full revitalization project that we feel like we want to engage,” Leichty said. “And then at that point we’ll actually launch into the next phase of the project, which will be the actual capital campaign.”
Regardless of when the actual capital campaign begins, Leichty said it is still Goshen Theater Inc.’s goal to at least have the building purchased by the end of this year, as that is the wish of Downtown@808.
“They do not want to continue to fund the operations of that building, so we are making every concerted effort to purchase the building before the end of the year,” Leichty said. “Whether or not we’ll be able to do that and raise the necessary funds to operate the building is still to be determined. So we’re taking it a step at a time. First we need to find the money to buy the building, and then we’ll go from there.”
If all goes well with the progression of the project, Leichty said her hope is to begin rehabilitation of the theater in 2015, with conclusion of the project tentatively set for sometime in 2016.