Group discusses potential new life for former Palace Theater

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Matt Jackson, local attorney, addressed interested citizens about the possibility of purchasing the old Palace Theater to use as a Community Arts Theater. (Staff photo by Lecia Forester)

Local residents interested in saving the Kennett Cinema, formerly known as the Palace Theater, were in attendance at the Downtown Kennett Coalition (DKC) meeting on Tuesday night as Matt Jackson, local attorney, presented information about a potential plan for the theater.

Jackson began his talk by first telling of how he was affected by the closing of the theater. "I was really upset by it. I started brainstorming to come up with ideas that could save it," he said. He added that he wanted to come to the meeting to see if he could get people on board with the idea.

According to Jackson, one of his first thoughts was that the theater could open as a non-profit community arts theater. He added that the city would be in a good position since the theater was still in such good shape. Jackson said that the projector is still there as well as the popcorn, soda, ice machines, and cash register. He noted that the seats are still in good condition. The question of seating capacity came up in the meeting. Kennett City Council member Jake Crafton said that it seated 400 people.

Some of the events that Jackson suggested for the theater include, plays by local theater groups as well as high school, churches and children's theater groups, smaller touring groups [in conjunction with other theaters] and classes that could be taught by a college such as Southeast Missouri State (SEMO) or Arkansas State University (ASU). Phil Wilburn, member of the SEMO Little Theater noted that he thought this would be a good idea since there are so many students in the area.

Movies that could be shown include the following: children/family fare, holiday viewings, educational viewings, the classic movies, special showings, animation festivals, special order movies as well as art films.

Jackson pointed out that as a non-profit organization, it would get better rates on movies.

There was also a suggestion that the theater could be rented out for parties.

"I'm sure there's going to be some repairs," Jackson said, adding, " As a non-profit [organization] we would have a lot of funding options that a private individual wouldn't have." He went on to cite the example of tax-deductible donations.

Charles B. Brown, local businessman, brought up the question of who would run it.

"It will be a major project. It would have to be something to consider, because to make it viable and workable, It would have to be a full-time position for somebody to work that and to make sure everything is running," Wilburn said.

"My thinking would be to form some sort of Kennett Area Arts Council," Jackson noted.

Wilburn said that at a recent meeting, there was discussion on the subject. The Kennett Area Arts Council would consist of SEMO Little Theater, Friends of Music, the Cotton Boll Artist League and anybody who is interested in any of the arts. He pointed out that by coming together as a group, it would better be able to access state funding for special projects. According to Wilburn, it looks better to have everyone as one group, instead of doing it separately.

Jackson brought up the idea of having a non-profit organization purchase the building, get some of the work and perhaps donate it to the city.

Jackson went on to say that the asking price for the building is $67,000 and is listed by Century 21 Realtors. The price includes everything in the building.

"I know there's going to have to be some work done, and I don't know exactly what needs to be done but really considering what you get, that's not a bad price," Jackson said. He added that he thought it was a possibility that people would donate time and materials.

Jackson said that he has recently found out that a private individual has made an offer on the building and if this transaction does go through, the understanding is, according to Jackson, that it will continue to operate as a movie theater.

"I don't know what's going to happen with that but there's a significant difference what an individual could do as opposed to what a public non-profit organization could do by running it," he said, adding, " Nothing is final yet."

Wilburn then said, "SEMO Little Theater is not pursuing the building as hard because it would be a tremendous undertaking. You're talking about utilities, [and] upkeep." He explained that all people at the SEMO Little Theater are volunteers and to get someone to volunteer to do that would be a huge undertaking. He said that if a group of people could come together then maybe more ideas would surface.

Brown said that the group should get the information together as one unit and by doing so, it would accomplish more in terms of recognition and possibly funding because the group would be representing a large spectrum of the community.

Joe Keene, long-time resident, noted that purchasing the theater would be difficult but not impossible.

Wilburn added that if the theater is not sold, he thinks it would be a good idea to pursue it as a group instead of separately. There would also be a possibility of pursuing grant money. Wilburn offered SEMO Little Theater's assistance.

Whether it is sold to the private individual or to interested parties in our own community, the city may be getting its theater back.

Also, at the meeting was the Kennett High School Smokebusters, Alexandra Brown and Jerica Wheeler. The Smokebusters was formed in their sophomore year and is a three-year program. Each year the group takes a trip to Portageville, Mo., where they participate in training about the harmful effects of tobacco and smoking through test products in the natural world. They also pass out information to people on what they have been studying concerning the effects of tobacco. Brown noted that through the years they have given programs at the elementary schools and the Kennett Middle School, presenting slides during the day and playing games that focused on this information.

Just last year, the group got Pizza Hut to sign a contract making its establishment a non-smoking restaurant and this year the goal is to help the downtown area to become tobacco-free.

Wheeler then added that the group had some information to give out to any business owners that were interested and the group had also drawn up some policies that stated the business would become smoke-free that owners could sign. Lindsay and Jake Crafton, owners of the Opera House, signed a policy at the meeting. Diane Risner, councilman, also expressed an interest, even though Senath State Bank is not in the downtown area. Smokebusters will be contacting the business owners on the square who have expressed an interest.

Other issues discussed were:

* The Facade Improvement Grant - Funding for Sara Graves, executive director, for the Downtown Kennett Revitalization Program, is coming to an end possibly on March 31. When her funding ends, so will the money for the Facade Grant. Those business owners who are interested in this grant should contact Graves at the Dunklin County Caring Council.

* A possible date of April 16, has been chosen as spring clean-up day, however, this date co-incides with Little River Fest and the Kennett High School Prom. It is possible it could be changed to another date.

* Wilburn said that the Missouri program KidsFirst has decided to sell pinwheels in Pemiscot and Dunklin County this year to raise the awareness of April as Child Abuse Awareness month. Last year pinwheels were displayed on the lawn of the state capitol. Pinwheels will be sold for $10 and they will be displayed on the lawns of the Pemiscot and Dunklin County Courthouses with the individual who buys it name on it. Wilburn said that this would be tax deductible and a poster would be given out to businesses to display in their windows.

* Wilburn also discussed the forming of one group comprising the Cotton Boll Artist League, the SEMO Little Theater and the Friends of Music. The group would try to bring to the city different forms of entertainment. The group is already working on an event that is slated at this time to be held the first week-end after Labor Day.

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