The next step in the Mars Theatre restoration efforts could begin soon.
Springfield City Council members awarded the contract for construction services to Phil Kieffer Construction for approximately $387,000.
“This makes it usable,” City Manager Brett Bennett said of the work scheduled for the building.
Bennett said the work entailed does not include seats for the theater, but the SRC does have some money for seats. Audio/visual equipment also is not included in the scope of the work, though there is smaller, temporary equipment that can be used, Bennett added.
“We designed it for the end goal, which is first-class audio/visual and projection,” he said.
There were issues with where the projection system would be placed, said Gussie Nease of the Springfield Revitalization Corporation, which has championed efforts to restore the Mars. That matter has been worked out with Stage Front Productions.
The push to revive the theater, which had its heyday in the late 1940s and 1950s, received a boost when the Fox Theatre Institute awarded the Mars a $20,000 grant.
“This makes me so happy,” Nease said. “We’ve backed up and punted so many times.”
Once finished, it will accommodate nearly 300 people on the main floor and in the balcony. The building is owned by the city and is leased to the Springfield Revitalization Corporation.
Where to find the money to finance the renovations gave council members pause.
“There’s not a lot available in the city budget,” Bennett said.
Mayor Barton Alderman said the city could use money from its city buildings line item, but that would still leave more than $300,000 to find. Council members opted to use city general fund revenues.
“I think everybody wants to do it,” Alderman said. “We have just have to decide where to pull the money from.”
SRC members thanked the council and the city for its assistance in shepherding the Mars project.
“We could not have done this without the city’s help and their backing,” said Wayne Kight.
Council members also appointed Kenny Usher and Charles Hinely to serve on a temporary five-person board that would discuss how the theatre would be run in the future. The SRC also will appoint two members, and the Springfield Merchants Association will appoint a member.