Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill Playhouse asks town to help fund Center Theater rehabilitation project

Fort Mill Community Playhouse actors, from left, Tom Moody, Marcie Levine Jacobs, Cathy Schaefer, Karen Lee, Vicki Rose, David Cruse, Kecia Capers and Susan Capotosto rehearse a scene from “Hallelujah Girls.” The playhouse, which needs a new home, has asked the town to help it rehabilitate the old Center Theater.
Fort Mill Community Playhouse actors, from left, Tom Moody, Marcie Levine Jacobs, Cathy Schaefer, Karen Lee, Vicki Rose, David Cruse, Kecia Capers and Susan Capotosto rehearse a scene from “Hallelujah Girls.” The playhouse, which needs a new home, has asked the town to help it rehabilitate the old Center Theater. FORT MILL TIMES FILE PHOTO

Fort Mill Community Playhouse board members say they have a plan to give new life to an old movie downtown theater and they want town hospitality tax money to help fund part of the project.

During the June 8 Fort Mill Town Council meeting, playhouse board member Rick Diak presented a plan to renovate the old Center Theater on Main Street to use it as the new location for stage productions. Playhouse members asked the board to support the idea in several ways, including $25,725 tostart the project.

“What we are looking for basically is seed money to help us get started,” Diak said.

Playhouse members are also requesting help with a review of parking, zoning and taxes on the property.

With four annual performances, the playhouse has something for everyone to enjoy, members said. Those productions include a musical, a youth play and a dinner theater. The theater also hosts youth camps in June so kids in fourth to 12th grade can explore their passion for live theater.

The nonprofit has been producing theater at 615 Banks St. near downtown for 13 years. The owner, Leroy Springs and Co., allowed the group to stay there for $1 a year in rent, but the land has been sold for development and the playhouse now has to find a new home.

Since announcing in April the playhouse was looking for a new location for storage and performances, the board realized buying land and building a suitable facility is cost prohibitive. Instead, members approached the owner of the old movie theater in downtown with an idea to renovate the building, but haven’t been able to fully commit because of the cost.

“We have not signed a lease yet. So we understand that money that we might get will depend on signing a lease, which is our official commitment to actually coming into this project,” Diak said.

Instead, the playhouse has signed a letter of intent to renovate and occupy the theater.

This isn’t the first time there has been a push to get renovation funds to turn the theater into a performing arts center. In 2008, council considered a similar, but more expensive proposal and the request was denied. Now, playhouse board members believe they have a solid plan.

“We are going to encourage the use of the facility by outside means which we would maintain the income from,” Diak said.

By renting the theater to outside groups, they’ll be able to make enough money to allow the Playhouse to pay for itself without any additional funding from the town.

That idea was included in a packet distributed to each board member at the meeting. Also included in the packet was a rough architectural estimate for the project, which is being used for planning purposes. It roughly estimates the cost at a little more than $354,000.

Playhouse board members have set up a building fund and the next phase of their plan will be to begin a capitol fundraising campaign. If approved, the seed money will pay for detailed architectural plans, which will include a final project cost, a site survey and administrative fees.

Town council members all agreed they would love to support the project, but just aren’t yet sure if they will be able to approve the seed money.

“Be patient and allow us to conference this with our staff and amongst ourselves and we’ll see what direction we can possibly go in,” Mayor Danny Funderburk said.

Council members gave no time for when that may happen.

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