With the Mars Theater’s renovations moving at a brisk pace, Springfield City Council members are ramping up efforts to find someone to run the facility.
Council members approved establishing the position of theater director, which also may entail downtown development — but only after the theater is up and running.
Council members debated extensively on the duties of the position before agreeing to make theater director the dominant responsibility.
“I feel the Mars Theater is that diamond in the rough,” said council member Steve Shealy. “It’s going to do some incredible things for the city. With the work that needs to be done, it needs to be a dedicated job. I’m worried we’re going to be sharing energies.”
City officials want to get the Mars up and running, and the worry was that doing double-duty may slow that process.
“All of us want the Mars director to be the Mars director and not get sidetracked,” Mayor Barton Alderman said.
City Manager Brett Bennett said the role as theater director will “take up the majority, if not all, of their time” of whoever is hired. He also envisioned the job taking on downtown development but only after the Mars Theater has become a viable entity.
“The Mars Theater is going to be the centerpiece,” he said. “I have no intention of putting anything but the Mars Theater on this person until the time is right.”
Bennett also said prospective theater directors should know up front that their job may entail downtown development at a later date.
“It’s not fair to not tell them up front that down the road, these are the duties you’ll have,” he said. “It’s my job to determine when that time is right. I hope we’re so successful we don’t put downtown development on them.”
Mars Theater committee members met recently with the director of Fitzgerald’s historic Grand Theatre and were scheduled to return the visit Monday. They also have met with representatives of Statesboro’s Averitt Center for the Arts.
“The Mars Theater has to be 100 percent successful,” Shealy said. “We have to have an individual who can take us to that level.”
Shealy said the language of downtown development duties in the job description scared him and was worried that role could take the theater director’s focus off the task of creating programs and arranging sponsorships for the Mars.
Council members also hope that the Mars renovation and its new life will spur development in downtown Springfield. Alderman called it “the rock that is going to be the anchor for downtown development.”
“Our hopes are that this thing takes off like wildfire,” Shealy said. ‘It’s going to mesh with everything we have in our city. This is the answer.”
Bennett said he anticipated that whoever is hired will be concentrating solely on the Mars for at least a year.
Gussie Nease of the Springfield Revitalization Corporation said the historic theaters in Fitzgerald and Toccoa, home to the Schaefer Center, have been successful.
“I want to be the showcase of coastal Georgia,” she said.
Nease also said she was less concerned about a potential theater director having grant-writing abilities than having the contacts to get grants written.
While no salary for the position has been set, city officials have explored a range of $30,000-$50,000. The city had $60,000 set aside as its matching portion for a $300,000 grant but won’t be getting that grant.
Bennett said the salary range is in line with other theater directors’ pay.
Alderman also worried about what adding downtown development duties would mean to the compensation for a theater director.
“One thing that worries me, if you have just a theater director and you try to add in some downtown development, adding to their job description, what do you do to their salary and to their salary expectation?” he asked.
Shealy said the theater director’s skill set needs to be clearly defined so the city can hire the right person.
“They need to know the ins and outs of that facility,” he said.