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Front Page » May 22, 2012 » Carbon County News » Rio Theatre, Helper City wants booming boxoffice on Main ...
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Rio Theatre, Helper City wants booming boxoffice on Main Street,steps up efforts to find right ticket


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By By JOHN SERFUSTINI
Sun Advocate associate editor

Helper councilman Chris Pugliese summarized the situation at the start of Tuesday's work meeting on the fate of the Rio Theatre: "We want to see things succeed, especially on Main Street. But it's all going to come down to numbers and budget."

Pugliese was talking to Morgan Lund, the professional actor who had urged the council earlier this month to consider that the city-owned building is too valuable to lie fallow. The council and mayor agreed with him, and scheduled the special one-item agenda to talk things over.

As the informal conversation developed, it turned out that the numbers involved show what may be a classic tough decision for the council later.The figures are neither small enough to rate a quick "yes" nor too large to rate a definite "no go."

As it now stands, the city is paying $19,000 a year in debt payments on a building that is vacant most of the time. A little less than half of that, some $9,000, is paid to the Community Impact Board. The other $10,000 goes to the federal government to pay off what was once a Community Development Block Grant to finance the building's reconstruction.

The grant turned into a debt, though, because the city was unable to create five full-time jobs at the Rio. The intent of the grant was to spur economic development 13 years ago.

However, Debbie Hatt, the executive director of the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments, told the council members and Lund that all may not be lost. If the city can create one full-time job, or two permanent part-time jobs that add up to 40 hours a week, it may be possible for the debt to the CDBG to turn into a grant again.

With that news, the group around the small conference table in City Hall got down to arithmetic. If the $10,000 payment to CDBG goes away, that means the city's debt service would be only $9,000 a year. Assuming that the city could make two part-time jobs at $10,000 each per year, that would bring the fixed costs of the Rio to $29,000 per year. That's $10,000 more than what the city is paying for debt service now. It's also $10,000 more than what's in the city budget.

However, Lund reiterated what he had said at the earlier council meeting: The Rio is a place for doing business. Aside from the consideration that the money paid in wages would stay in town instead of being sent to the U. S. Treasury, those workers at the Rio could help turn the theater into a going concern.

To do that, they would need an Internet connection because most theater business - bookings and ticket sales - is done online these days, he explained. Those employees would have to maintain a website, engage in social media to build contacts, and provide technical assistance to clients and rentals. Technical assistance means showing people how to turn on lights, how to operate curtains and the like.

Lund himself doesn't want the job, but he said he thinks the city ought to consider a separate, non-profit theater council to act as an umbrella agency and guide the marketing policy. The previous arrangement, where the theater came under the aegis of the Helper Arts Council, was a good idea, but it was not focused entirely on the specifics of theater management, he said.

The new theater council would have a single focus. It should be made up of people from around the region with special expertise and should probably include at least one lawyer and one accountant, Lund advised.

If the city were to pay the theater council and have that council handle hiring and staffing, it would probably satisfy the federal requirements for job creation, Hatt said.

Pugliese added that if a Rio council were created, the city would establish a separate account in its budget for the revenues and expenses.

The city council members at the special meeting, even though they constituted a quorum, could make no decisions. They could and did, however, agree to do more research before scheduling the matter for a regular council session.

> goes away, that means the city's debt service would be only $9,000 a year. Assuming that the city could make two part-time jobs at $10,000 each per year, that would bring the fixed costs of the Rio to $29,000 per year. That's $10,000 more than what the city is paying for debt service now. It's also $10,000 more than what's in the city budget.

However, Lund reiterated what he had said at the earlier council meeting: The Rio is a place for doing business. Aside from the consideration that the money paid in wages would stay in town instead of being sent to the U. S. Treasury, those workers at the Rio could help turn the theater into a going concern.

To do that, they would need an Internet connection because most theater business - bookings and ticket sales - is done online these days, he explained. Those employees would have to maintain a website, engage in social media to build contacts, and provide technical assistance to clients and rentals. Technical assistance means showing people how to turn on lights, how to operate curtains and the like.

Lund himself doesn't want the job, but he said he thinks the city ought to consider a separate, non-profit theater council to act as an umbrella agency and guide the marketing policy. The previous arrangement, where the theater came under the aegis of the Helper Arts Council, was a good idea, but it was not focused entirely on the specifics of theater management, he said.

The new theater council would have a single focus. It should be made up of people from around the region with special expertise and should probably include at least one lawyer and one accountant, Lund advised.

If the city were to pay the theater council and have that council handle hiring and staffing, it would probably satisfy the federal requirements for job creation, Hatt said.

Pugliese added that if a Rio council were created, the city would establish a separate account in its budget for the revenues and expenses.

The city council members at the special meeting, even though they constituted a quorum, could make no decisions.

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