Springfield officials hope their action Tuesday night will go a long way toward answering what they say has been a frequent question of late.
City council members voted 3-2 to purchase two reader boards, which will be placed atop the Mars Theatre marquee — and will inform passers-by of what’s coming to the recently-opened and renovated facility.
“It is the number one comment people make to me,” city cultural affairs director Tommy Deadwyler said of the lack of a reader board on the theatre.
Added City Manager Brett Bennett: “You wouldn’t believe the number of people who pull into the parking lot and ask what’s going on.”
Council member Steve Shealy, who voted against the contract for the reader boards, said the price for it made him uneasy. He said he saw the need for promoting upcoming events at the Mars to drivers and asked if the city could look into the large board along Highway 21 in Rincon, across from Walmart, to help in that pursuit.
“Have we looked at other options,” he asked, “where we could get greater exposure to our audience, rather than on Laurel Street?”
Shealy said the Rincon billboard would capture a greater audience, since the volume of traffic past it is greater than the number of cars on Laurel Street.
Bennett said there needed to be something on the building to announce and promote coming attractions. He pointed out there are similar boards on the Lucas Theatre and the Savannah Theatre.
“You can capture more people with the 21 board, yes,” he said. “I agree that is more bang for the buck. And I think you have to have that sign on the theatre.”
One reason, Bennett added, was that people will see that something is going on at the theatre.
“I don’t have a problem with something being up there,” Shealy said. “I have a problem with it being $15,000.”
Deadwyler said the people the sign will bring in eventually will pay for its cost.
“The traffic during the day is pretty substantial,” he said. “There is a certain number of people who do want to know what is going on. We’re hearing from them constantly.”
The theatre is advertising in Savannah-based entertainment weekly publications, and it is also active in social and digital media, connecting with potential patrons through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. But he is still inundated, he said, with calls and questions, mostly from older, local inquisitors.
“I think we have to have something,” added council member Gary Weitman.
Mayor Barton Alderman said he would like to see the city have the upcoming attractions posted on the Mars and also have the billboard in Rincon.
“We have spent a heckuva lot of money to make it a great experience,” the mayor said. “I definitely think we need the sign.”
Alderman also said he’s heard from residents about the Mars not having signs announcing future events.
Weitman said he didn’t like the price of the reader boards for the Mars, either, but those signs might bring in more customers.
“We need something on that building,” said council member Charles Hinely. “That building is naked right now.”
Council member Jerry Maennche said they needed to see what the reader boards would look like, and Deadwyler passed around his phone, with a shot of Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre, to give council members an indication of what would be coming.
The reader boards will cost $14,225 and will be built and installed by Neon Designs of Statesboro, which already has worked on the theatre’s façade. The reader boards should be ready in about four or five weeks, according to Deadwyler.
“They’re ready to start tomorrow,” he said.
Council members also approved the Mars’ budget, and Deadwyler said the movie showings in the upcoming months will be less geared toward blockbusters, which typically are released in the summer and around Christmas.
“In the fall, you’ll see more of the old classics,” he said. “We want to do a Westerns weekend and do a locals weekend, with movies that were filmed in Effingham and Savannah.”
Deadwyler also said he is getting calls every week about renting the Mars for events.
“People are starting to see the different uses of the Mars,” he said. “People walk out and say, ‘this is beautiful.’”
The Mars also has received a $1,280 grant from the Fox Theatre Institute to help defray the cost of a future live performance. Deadwyler also serves with the Georgia Presenters, a statewide consortium that assists in booking artists and acts, and the Fox Theatre Institute is its managing body. Bennett and Deadwyler also are meeting soon with the state Department of Economic Development’s regional tourism representative.
“We’re working toward getting more grants,” Deadwyler said.
“We’re very proud of what you’re doing, Tommy,” Shealy said.