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Rugby’s JDA to purchase theater

By Staff | Dec 24, 2012

Rugby’s Job Development Authority has decided to purchase the Centre Cinema in the hopes of keeping the theater open and alive.

At its meeting on Dec. 12, the JDA board voted, using two separate motions, to purchase the theater, its contents and remaining tax burden for $28,550.

JDA Executive Director Brenda Foster said the purchase agreement should be signed within a few days of the meeting and hopes the sale will be finalized by the end of the calendar year.

After theater owner and operator David “DJ” Anderson announced his intention to close the Centre Cinema at the end of the year and put the building up for sale, a public meeting drew more than 80 people determined to keep it open.

A steering committee of around 25 people was developed after a Nov. 27 community meeting on how to save the theater.

At its first meeting, the steering committee showed a desire to have the JDA purchase the building to ensure it would stay a theater, regardless of how it was operated in the future.

In purchasing the theater, the JDA would also gain the right to the Lyric Theater name, which is owned by Anderson. Anderson also told Foster he would assist with the transfer of the theater and training new staff.

The main question debated at the meeting wasn’t whether to purchase the building, but what would be the best way to operate the theater moving forward.

The JDA Board voted to use the North Dakota Community Foundation as a facilitator in organizing and collecting donations for the theater. Donations made through the foundation would allow donors to use them as tax write-offs.

The foundation, at a 3 percent fee, would also track the donations as part of the sponsorship.

At the meeting, the JDA board got an idea of the cost of upgrading and renovating the theater.

The JDA has applied for a grant through “Save America’s Cinemas,” an organization that is attempting to raise $1 million to save small-town theaters.

If the grant is accepted, “Save America’s Cinemas” would install the approximately $75,000 in equipment needed as part of a digital upgrade and train staff how to operate it.

The building also needs about $25,000 in electrical upgrades. Adding in another $22,000 in renovation costs would bring the project’s total to around $150,000 if the grant isn’t landed.

The board also took a look at how many patrons would be needed to keep the theater viable.

Foster distributed two break-even analyses, one based on a $7 ticket and another based on an $8 ticket.

Both plans called for 500 movie-goers purchasing tickets on a monthly basis needed to make a small profit.

After talking to operators of other area theaters, Foster and JDA board member Craig Wollenburg believe 500 is a very reachable number.

“The group we talked to down in Harvey said that they found once the community took it over, their attendance started to go up quite significantly,” Wollenburg said. “Now they had ownership in it and took pride in doing it.”

With around 45 percent of ticket sales going back to the movie maker and distributor in royalties, there was some debate about how the theater would be run in the short term.

“If we get this out before the end of the year and get the arrangement set up with North Dakota Community Foundation, we could immediately take donations that people could write off on their taxes, which people would like to do before 12-31,” Fr. Tom Graner said. “I think there’d be some capital there. I don’t think that’s a critical thing.”

Foster said the initial steering committee would be broken up into three separate committees: fundraising, operations and volunteer.

The steering committee, along with the JDA board will continue to investigate options for operating the theater, including the possibility of a lease agreement or a community-operated theater.

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