Culpeper Town Council Committee looks for ways to help State Theatre

Posted by on Dec 28, 2015

A Culpeper Town Council committee on Tuesday, Dec. 22, reached consensus to direct the town staff to meet with State Theatre leaders to determine what can be done to help the theatre cope with its financial crisis, without handing out taxpayer’s money.

The theatre set a deadline in mid-November of Dec. 31, to raise $400,000 for operating expenses to keep the lights on and shows on stage in 2016.

Councilman Pranas Rimeikis requested that the committee discuss options the town might pursue, although he admitted at the outset that he had no specific proposals or ideas.

“It is important enough we should have a discussion,” said Rimeikis, as he addressed the town’s Public Safety, Public Works and Community Development Committee. “The only thing I can propose, if I propose anything, is consensus that we allow staff to meet, at least formally, with theatre folks and see where they are.”

He noted that the town council knows little about the theatre’s future plans. He thought putting the town’s staff in the same room with the theatre management could help educate both entities about each group’s role.

Councilman Keith Price wanted to be sure he understood that Rimeikis was talking about the theatre’s long-term plans and goals and not just short-term plans.

“It’s not just about getting over the hump,” said Rimekis. “What can we do, if anything – the town and government in the long term?”

He said the theatre’s business plan needs to change regarding its funding operation.

Price asked Public Services Director Jim Hoy, who was sitting in while Town Manager Chris Hively was on vacation, if the staff had been involved in any formal meetings with the theatre’s staff. Hoy said he was not aware of any formal meetings but said there had been some informal meetings in the past.

“There is a lot of information that can to be gleaned from just going and talking to them,” said Council member Meaghan Taylor, who attended the meeting as she usually does but isn’t a member. “There is a lot that we don’t understand about what their plans are.”

Rimeikis noted that he, and he believed other council members, had heard from constituents that they didn’t want taxpayer’s money spent to help the theatre out of its financial crisis.

“I think that is off the table,” said Rimeikis. “They have to change the way they are funding.”

Councilman Bobby Ryan, who agreed that the theatre was an asset to the community, said he heard from some constituents about the town’s new release voicing its support of the theatre’s fundraising efforts but not providing any money.

“We are in a difficult position as far as giving money,” said Ryan. “It’s taxpayer’s money. More than once I’ve heard ‘don’t give our money away.’”

“I see their point,” he added.

Ryan also asked if the entire State Theatre Board of Directors was changing the end of December. Rimeikis said he believed the board’s makeup would change through attrition and be transitional not a wholesale change.

Rimeikis is looking at some other effort by the town to help the theatre rather than handing out money.

Price doesn’t think the town can just sit back and hope the theatre raises the necessary money. He said he thinks the town has the responsibility to help, in some fashion, and the formal meetings could prove helpful.

Rimeikis made a pointed statement about town council staying out of the meetings and allowing the staff to meet with theatre officials. He reminded the committee how poorly the water and sewer negotiations went between the town and county when the politicians were involved.

“It’s best we stay out of it,” said Rimeikis, urging his colleagues to let the staff handle the discussions, if that is the route the committee wished to proceed.

Hoy suggested that the staff may be able to help theatre officials devise a better business model.

“Are you looking for a vote or head nod?” Committee Chairman Jon Russell asked Rimeikis. “What are you looking for?”

“Looking for consensus,” said Rimeikis.

The committee directed Hoy to contact State Theatre officials and set up meetings as soon as possible.

During the public comment period county resident Chuck Duncan urged the committee to treat the State Theatre as it would a business such as Wal-Mart, as economic development.

Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at wallybunker@outlook.com