Tourism commission mulls funding theater expenses

GREENFIELD — Tourism leaders say they’ll use tax dollars to support Greenfield’s downtown community theater — provided its board turns over a detailed budget to show how the money will be spent.

Several members of the Hancock County Tourism Commission said they will vote to support the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts through the commission’s grant process — calming fears in the arts community that a change in funding for the theater could lead to its closure.

Theater manager Dave Scott temporarily stopped booking events when he learned the county’s proposed 2018 budget — set for approval in October — strips funding from the theater’s bottom line.

Instead of guaranteeing the theater receive monies taken from local hotel taxes — which are expected to total about $65,000 this year — the nonprofit Hancock County Visitors Bureau, which oversees the theater, will be required to apply for grants to cover maintenance costs at the downtown venue. The effort would help tourism leaders keep better tabs on how funds are spent, commission members said.

Scott told the Daily Reporter he worried without the guaranteed funding, the theater, 122 W. Main St., might be forced to raise rental fees for the groups that host events there or close altogether.

Several commission members say they’ll do what they can to assure that doesn’t happen.

Starting in 2018, the theater’s five-member board must present a detailed budget to be considered during the grant process; and if it does so, it should expect to receive similar funding to what it has gotten in the past, said commission president Earl Smith.

“If everything looks good, I don’t see why we wouldn’t fund it like we have anything else,” Smith said.

Those sentiments were echoed by commission member Rosalie Richardson, who said the commission will support the theater while making sure the public knows how tax dollars are being spent.

She said the commission could review the budget annually and disperse funding quarterly, making adjustments as needed.

Other nonprofit organizations are already required to apply for grant funding from the tourism commission if they need help advertising or paying for a tourism-related event or effort.

Historically, the theater is the only existing entity that has been guaranteed a cut of taxes charged to hotel guests.

Visitors bureau board members met this week to put together a grant application and budget detailing what the theater needs to operate, said board member Sarah Wolf. The group plans to appear before the tourism commission Tuesday to present a grant request for all of 2018.

The board hopes the money will be disbursed quarterly, Wolf said.

Scott felt encouraged by hearing tourism commission members would support funding the monthly expenses of the theater.

“It comes as great news not only to us but to the arts groups who use the Ricks Centre as their home base,” he said. “We would be very appreciative if the grant’s approved.”

A roughly $2,000 monthly lease agreement between the commission and the visitors bureau will also help offset expenses for the theater, Richardson added. The commission recently began renting a building owned by the visitors bureau to house the county tourism director’s office.

That lease agreement will fund about a quarter of the monthly costs of maintaining the theater, Richardson said.

Tourism commission treasurer Kelly McClarnon said he doesn’t want to see the theater close. He expects going forward, Scott will have to demonstrate the theater’s upkeep is tied to tourism to justify use of the innkeepers tax.

Tourism commission member Brandi Zimmer, a local hotel manager, said she, too, wants to better understand how the theater’s downtown presence draws tourists to the county.

Dan Theobald and Shirley Matlock, both new tourism commission members, said they are still in the learning process and don’t feel comfortable commenting on the issue.

Sarah Kesterson did not return calls for comment.

Author photo
Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.