Blues fans came together for the first-ever Winter Blues Festival to raise money for the Bonham Theatre Project in Fairbury. According to Debby Ebke, Bonham Theatre Project treasurer, more than $2,000 was raised to assist the Bonham Theatre Project with efforts to renovate and reopen the 88-year old movie theatre, located in the downtown historic district. “It was a great event,” said Ebke.
The Tasting Room inside Stagecoach Mall Antiques provided the backdrop for the festival. Festival goers enjoyed blues music from featured three acts – Emily Bass, Jared’s Super Blues Party and Howlin’ Steve Howell. BBQ ribs and all the fixin’s were provided by Totally Smoked BBQ, owned by CB Snider of Fairbury. The Fairbury Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored the sold-out event, which drew more than 125 people.
“Everyone who came had a great time and there is talk of a repeat, perhaps on the 4th of July, which just happens to fall on a first Friday,” according to Julie Katz, owner of The Tasting Room and coordinator of Fairbury’s First Friday events. “Live music and great food always bring people together, and it’s for a great cause!”
The next fundraiser for the Bonham Theatre Project will be a soup luncheon called “Bowls For Bonham” on Sunday, February 16th from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. in The Tasting Room featuring crock bowls made by artist Lucky Stradley. A variety of homemade soups, sandwiches and desserts will be available, plus live music provided by David Hunt of Fairbury.
For more information about the Bonham Theatre Project, log on to their website www.BonhamTheatreProject.org or find them on facebook.com/BonhamTheatreProject.
The Bonham Theatre Project board of directors has compiled a list of frequently asked questions about the status of the theater. Here is an update:
Q. It’s been reported that the Majestic Theatre in Hebron is open and showing digital movies for the cost of $60,000. Why, after raising more than $125,000, is the Bonham not able to be showing movies?
A. The two situations are very different in the fact that the Majestic never closed – it has remained open even thru the transition to digital conversion – the current owner of the Majestic agreed to deed it over to the nonprofit with no interruption. The Bonham, however, due to the closure and change of ownership, is now subject to a host of governmental regulations – fire code requirements (fire sprinklers, exits, etc.), ADA requirements (bathrooms, etc.), and those codes must be met prior to occupancy of any kind. They are also necessary for insurance. We cannot have any kind of public event in the building at all until issues are resolved and the fire marshal signs off and insurance can be obtained to cover occupancy.
Q. What must be done in order for the Bonham to reopen? Can’t we open, show movies and make repairs as we go?
A. Unfortunately, the code requirements for public safety and insurability are the catalyst for embarking on a much larger project than originally anticipated, which affects the timing, budget and scope of work. There are many issues that need to be addressed. Ceiling repairs (falling plaster) required us to remove the seats to make way for scaffolding. Façade repairs required removal of the marquee due to safety concerns. Handicap accessibility laws require the remodeling of the restrooms and the main theatre. Other unforeseen issues may cause delays in the overall schedule to reopen.
Q. What are the plans for the money that has been raised so far?
A. The money raised so will be used as leverage for grant and foundation funding (most require a 50/50 match). We are hoping to take the money raised so far and essentially double it or even triple it to do the necessary work to reopen the theatre. However, there is no guarantee that all requests will be funded; therefore fundraising will be an ongoing process.
Q. Who is the Board of Directors seeking guidance from to ensure that they are on the right path for this project?
A. The architectural firm Miller & Associates has been hired. They redesigned The World Theater in Kearney – a project nearly identical to the Bonham. The World had closed and in order to reopen had to address the same issues we are facing. The theatre is almost identical in layout, design and challenges. Working with Miller & Associates, the board feels their experience with The World Theatre project will put ours on the fastest track. Miller & Associates also employs grant writers and administrators who will help us maximize every dollar.
Q. What will it cost to reopen?
A. Cost estimates for the remodel will be available by January 2014. A recent bid places the cost of digital conversion of both theatres at $113,000 for new equipment.
Q. Will both theatres be reopened?
A. The Board of Directors is working on a multi-phase plan to reopen both theatres. Utilization of both screens will allow more options with regard to movie offerings and other uses of the theatres.
Q. Will the Bonham serve purposes other than just showing movies?
A. The community survey results indicate there is a desire amongst community members to utilize the Bonham for a variety of entertainment activities and events. Although the first priority is to bring movies back to Fairbury, the board of directors is committed to the viability and long-term success of the theatre. Since movies only may not generate enough revenue to sustain the theatre, we intend to transform the Bonham into a facility that will be able to host live events, receptions, etc. Additional entertainment options will provide supplemental revenue to support the theatre (utilizing a manager and volunteers). The first phase of the project will be to open the main theatre for movies. Additional phases will open the second theatre and allow the stage to be used for live entertainment.