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Council members OK Mars budget
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From glowing reviews of the sound system and an appreciation of the seating arrangements, Springfield City Council members are hearing plenty of good things about the Mars Theatre.

The theater, which was refurbished after more than five decades of inactivity, reopened in late April. Its calendar has been filled virtually ever since, and Springfield City Council members had a first reading Tuesday night of an ordinance for its operating budget.

“I feel very comfortable,” city cultural affairs director Tommy Deadwyler said of the Mars’ budget. “We actually have more room to create more revenue that we did not count on. We’re experiencing more and more growth already.”

Council members also said everything they have heard from people attending events and shows at the Mars is encouraging.

“I’ve heard nothing but positive remarks,” said Mayor Barton Alderman.

“And they loved the room behind the seats,” added council member Gary Weitman.

The Mars’ budget includes a $21,171 transfer from reserves to its operating account.

“This is unlike any budget I have done for the city of Springfield,” Bennett said.

Expenses are fairly well-defined, Bennett explained, but revenues are a little more difficult to peg, since those come from ticket sales, rental fees and potential sponsorships.

“It’s a different animal from government (revenue) forecasting,” Bennett said.

City staff has listed expected expenses for every day in the upcoming year. Those expenses include building maintenance, operations and costs that are specific to events held at the Mars.

Ticket sales, so far, have come in above projections, Bennett said. On the first weekend of movies shown at the Mars, ticket sales were $1,500 over expectations. Bennett cautioned that not every weekend is going to be that profitable.

“Some movies are going to be better than others. Some live events are going to be better than others,” he said.

Bennett added he expected ticket sales to improve over time at the Mars. The Mars does not recoup all the money it makes off tickets, since there are royalties for movie distributors and a fee for its online ticketing vendor. The revenue forecast also takes into account sales from concessions and alcohol. Alcohol is not sold at movies and is sold only at certain live events.

The Mars has been rented out three times since its April opening, and rental fees range from $500-$1,000. Deadwyler said they are getting inquiries every week about renting the theater. Rental revenue, however, wasn’t included in expected income from the theater’s operations.

“We didn’t project any rentals because it’s hard to plan for that,” Bennett said.

The Mars’ budget is conservative, Bennett said, and the theater will need about $21,000 from the city’s general fund. Approving the budget meant also approving the transfer from the general fund. The city council will consider a budget amendment before the close of the fiscal year, which runs through Dec. 31.

Bennett said he hoped the Mars could generate enough revenue to repay that transfer from the general fund.

Spending on the Mars’ marketing and advertising is a little higher up front than it will be later, Bennett said.

“As time goes on, we can reduce that,” he said.

Added Deadwyler: “I think the ad campaign is going well.”

The Mars has hosted a wide variety of events, from first-run movies — it has shown “The Amazing Spiderman 2,” “Godzilla” and is showing “How to Train Your Dragon 2” — to critically-acclaimed music acts such as Von Grey and Col. (ret.) Bruce Hampton.

“We’re trying a little bit of everything,” Bennett said. “We’ll find a niche of what works the most. I think that’s the natural progression of a business.”

Deadwyler said what they are discovering is the movies bring in more local patrons and their live events draw more of an out-of-town crowd.

“And that’s a good thing,” Bennett said. “That’s the whole point.”

“We spent a lot of money to create a pleasing environment,” Alderman said. “Once we get them hooked, we can get them to come back.”