Downtown theater receives funding

Tourism commission OKs $55,000 grant to support H.J. Ricks Centre for Arts

GREENFIELD — Leaders of a downtown performance venue are heaving a sigh of relief after receiving funding to keep the theater’s doors open.

The Hancock County Tourism Commission voted Tuesday to provide nearly $55,000 in grant funding toward the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, the only community stage venue in Greenfield aside from the local high school.

Hancock County Visitors Bureau board member Sarah Wolf presented a projected 2018 budget for the facility and letters of support to the seven-member tourism commission at its meeting Tuesday. She asked for about $40,000 to cover utilities and other costs, as well as $15,000 to subsidize rental fees for the theater, which hosts about 60 events a year.

The visitors bureau, a nonprofit organization that owns and operates the historic downtown theater, submitted its grant application after county leaders decided to do away with a years-long agreement that guaranteed the theater receive a portion of a tax charged to local hotel guests — an amount expect to generate about $65,000 this year.

Other nonprofit organizations already were required to apply for grant funding from the tourism commission if they needed 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 the innkeepers tax.

The change helps tourism leaders keep better tabs on how funds are spent, said commission member Rosalie Richardson.

And commission members continued to push for that transparency Tuesday night, asking for quarterly spending reports.

“We haven’t had a business-like relationship before, but now, we would like to have something on paper,” Richardson said.

Wolf resisted the idea, instead wanting to submit a single end-of-year report.

Paying the bureau’s accountant to compile reports four times a year would be too costly, Wolf told the Daily Reporter after the meeting.

Wolf and the commission settled on twice-annual reports, and the funding request passed unanimously. Sarah Kesterson, who sits on both the tourism commission and the visitors bureau board, expressed her support but abstained from voting.

Tourism commission president Earl Smith said the $55,000 grant gives the bureau a year to seek more grant funding or create fundraisers. He alluded to a group of arts leaders who gathered anxiously at the meeting, suggesting their presence shows there’s enough support behind the theater to create regular sources of funding.

“Perhaps, eventually, you won’t have to ask us for much, and the theater will do better things than it’s doing right now,” Smith said.

As the vote passed, the crowd applauded.

Kathy Hoefgen of Greenfield was among those who sat in the audience, awaiting word of the theater’s fate.

Hoefgen has strode across the Ricks stage countless times as an eight-year member of the Ricks-Weil Theatre Co., both acting and directing. She’s relieved the facility so near and dear to her heart will keep the curtains open at least one more year.

“I’m overwhelmed and ecstatic,” she said. “There are people who care about the theater and want it to stay, and I’m one of those people.”

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or