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Work on Mars may get a boost
0920 mars exterior 1
Work on the exterior of Springfields Mars Theatre could take place soon after the city and the Springfield Revitalization Corporation received a grant from the state Department of Economic Development. - photo by File photo

With the potential of a grant from the state Department of Economic Development in hand, work around the Mars Theater in Springfield could be coming soon.

The city applied for a $20,000 tourism product development grant to rehabilitate the downtown Springfield edifice. Along with the grant, the proceeds of which will go to the Springfield Revitalization Corporation to get the work done on the Mars, the city is contributing a $27,000 cash match. There is also an $8,050 in-kind contribution of services.

“That’ll get us through the first phase,” said City Manager Brett Bennett.

Under the grant and other funding, work to be performed on the theater includes excavating the exterior wall below the grade for sealing, then backfilling and regarding the perimeter to slope away from the exterior wall. That is expected to drain any water away from the building.

Walls will be sand-blasted and painted and penetrating sealer will be applied. Work also will be done to improve the theater’s three exits, at the main entrance, the stage entrance and the assembly area. The existing exit of the assembly area will be excavated  and handrails, stairs and awning of the doorway’s exterior will be repaired.

A previous phase replaced the roof and the glass block façade was replaced. The next phase, which is not covered by the grant, will be to renovate the lobby and stage.

“They need to see our commitment, and we have the backing right now,” said council member Kenny Usher, a city council liaison to the SRC. “We need that theater done tomorrow.”

In the grant application, the theater’s rehabilitation was cited as being at the core of local efforts to enhance downtown and develop a plan for tourism development. The project is essential for supporting an active arts community, increasing tourism and stimulating the economic base, according to the grant narrative.

“After the renovation of the theater, we want a lot of uses,” said Gussie Nease of the SRC.

Members of the Fox Theatre Institute visited the Mars and met with SRC members to give advice on funding, restoration and operations. The project also is seen as an addition to entertainment options available to coastal Georgia tourists.

The Mars exterior work is scheduled to be completed by April 30, 2012.

Graduate school students also have been taking a look at the Mars and downtown as part of their research. One master’s of public administration student at the University of Georgia is focusing on downtown and another is delving into a business and operations plan for the Mars, including needed staffing. The university solicits cities to submit projects for its MPA students to work on, and Springfield’s was chosen, Bennett said.

The SRC also has applied for a license, and gotten the city’s backing, for a license to hold another fundraising bingo night for the Mars.

“We have to have a state license if we are going to give cash prizes,” Nease said. “The GBI says we have to have a state license.”

Nease added that bingo players in Pooler and Bloomingdale expressed an interest in playing in the SRC’s bingo night, if cash prizes are available.

“Offering a cash prize will have more interest in the game,” she said.

Nease also said the spring bike ride will continue and that’s how they were able to get the in-kind contribution of architectural services for this next phase of Mars renovations.