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Springfield ponders how to run theater
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As work on the Mars Theater progresses, Springfield City Council members are taking up the task of how it should be operated and who should do it.

City Manager Brett Bennett will put together a job description for a Mars Theater director, and the job could entail more. Council members would have to vote to establish the position, which is likely to entail more than just the theater’s operations and include further economic development initiatives for the city.

Should the city council choose to create the position, Mayor Barton Alderman said he sees that person answering to the city manager, just as any other city employee.

“I don’t see that our current staff can handle the Mars,” Alderman said. “My feeling is you do need someone in that position.”

Work on the Mars should be done by late September or early October, according to Bennett. Once the position is approved and advertised, it could take a month to get someone hired.

“And that’s why we came back a little quicker than expected,” Bennett said.

Murray Kight, a member of the Mars Theater ad hoc committee, urged council members to move quickly.

“These four months will be gone in a hurry,” he said. “By the time you meet again, one of those months will have passed.”

An ad hoc Mars Theater committee, made up of Bennett, Kight, Jamey Stancell, Lisa Woods and Gussie Nease, met with Tim Chapman, the director of Statesboro’s Averitt Center for the Arts. Averitt brought along projected budgets and job descriptions for the Averitt.

“We knew it was going to be substantial,” Bennett said. “We quickly found out it was going to be more. When you look at the planning to set up the programming for the Mars, that can’t be done by any of our staff as additional duties.”

“We’ve got to have somebody,” said council member Charles Hinely. “We don’t want to have that building with all that money we put into it sitting vacant.”

Most community theaters also sell memberships, along with season tickets to events and sponsorships, Bennett said. The Averitt also has camps and summer and youth programs.

Those shows, events and camps, however, are the product of a director and a staff, Bennett pointed out, and city staff doesn’t have the time or the expertise necessary.

“To put a schedule together, to put a season together, it is going to have to be a consistent effort by someone for it to have the impact we want it to have,” Bennett said. “That likely will require 40 hours of time a week. But as time goes by, you hope that process becomes easier.”

Stancell said a permanent Mars board of directors, which would oversee the programs, events, fundraising and coordination of volunteers, should have members whose skills lend themselves to those areas to assist the theater director.

“To find someone with all those traits without a support team is impossible,” he said.

Bennett envisions the theater director’s position also working to develop downtown Springfield. Downtown development, and a downtown development authority, have been discussed. A Main Street or Better Hometown program also could open doors for grants and businesses in downtown, Bennett added.

“It’s all about economic development,” he said.

The city can’t create its downtown development authority — that would have to be done by the state legislature, Bennett explained. Some communities have their own economic development departments, such as the Athens-Clarke County consolidated government. Former Effingham IDA project manager Ryan Moore was hired as its initial director.

“An authority is a living, breathing animal of its own,” Bennett said. “The city can’t destroy it. In some ways, that’s a good thing.”

Bennett said the city could have an economic development department that grows into a downtown development authority. The advantage to an authority, he said, is it can do things a local government can’t.

The city of Statesboro covers the Averitt Theater director’s salary, Bennett said, but the theater’s operations and expenses are met by the money it raises.

“The events fund themselves,” he said. “That facility is much more than the (Emma Kelly) theater. It has camps and summer programs, and that can’t be done by our existing staff.”

The ad hoc committee also discussed budgets at its first three meetings, but whoever is hired to run the theater should be included in those talks, Bennett said.

“We do have an idea of an budget to see how the theater would fund itself,” he said.

Bennett also said the city has to determine where to pull the money from to pay for the position, and the city also has to hire a new public works director, after Matt Morris left to join the Effingham Industrial Development Authority.

Stancell said the Mars director also could write grants for economic development and theater programs and projects.

“Someone with a knowledge of grants could be important to running the Mars,” he said. “We don’t want an empty building. It’s been empty long enough.”

At the Springfield Revitalization Corporation’s outdoor movie showing last week, which drew approximately 150 people, the Mars committee also distributed surveys. Most of the adults in attendance had two or more kids with them and the majority of their responses asked for programs on Friday and Saturday nights and not something every night of the week, Stancell said.

“Price is important to them, and ratings are very important to them,” he said.

Second-run movies, which have been in theaters for four or more weeks, were signaled as the most desirable program for the Mars, according to the survey. Tickets for those second-run movies would be between $3 and $8.

Of the respondents, 12 were from Springfield and 12 were from Guyton, while six were from Rincon. Others came from Ellabell and Statesboro.

The ad hoc committee has met six times, often for two hours at a time, “and there’s been a lot of homework, too,” Stancell said.

Stancell also said a board of directors needs to be constituted and could help in the narrowing down of candidates for the theater director position.