A group charged with raising funds for the iconic Earl Smith Strand Theatre is getting fired up about the possibility of erasing the debt that went into completing its renovations.
The capital campaign committee for The Friends of the Strand is aiming for the end of this year to put together the $1.5 million needed to pay off the downtown Marietta theater’s remaining debts. The group is even planning a “Burn the Note” party Dec. 31 to celebrate their debt-free status.
“The Strand is a gem for Cobb County and the entire region,” said former Gov. Roy Barnes, who is co-chairing the major donor capital campaign efforts. “You cannot go there and not have it bring back a flood of old, warm memories. To see a landmark like this restored is good for the community.”
Friends of the Strand board member Faye DiMassimo said the committee is taking a two-pronged strategy for paying off its debt — a major donor campaign to raise $1 million and about $500,000 from grant funding.
The larger portion of that funding will come from donations by major contributors, she said.
DiMassimo, who is also director of the Cobb County Department of Transportation, said finding half a million dollars in grant money is within reach.
“We have eight or nine applications in right now,” DiMassimo said.
The Friends of the Strand is working with fundraising consulting firm Sinclair, Townes and Company to find sources of funding.
The renovation efforts for the Strand began in 2005, when the former movie theater built in the 1930s had fallen into disrepair.
“It came about by people interested in the Square,” said Friends of the Strand board chairman Bob Ash.
Within three years, the group had pulled together enough community support to make building repairs and bring new performances onto the stage by early 2009.
“It’s a monument to movies, music and theater,” board Vice Chairman Steve Imler said. “Nothing has more of a community impact as this.”
The Friends of the Strand spent about $5.7 million to renovate the building.
The group raised $3.8 million of the renovation costs through private donations prior to the theater’s reopening, but it had to fund the remainder through a $2 million bridge loan from Bank of North Georgia.
Fundraising efforts, such as a Woodruff Foundation grant received last fall, have allowed repayment of part of that money. But the Friends of the Strand is looking to make the final push before the end of this year.
“I think that all of us have seen that the Strand is one of the greatest cultural venues in the region,” Barnes said. “We think it’s necessary to get them out of debt. It’s important to raise sufficient funds, rather than refinancing the debt. We need to be able to get this debt taken care of.”
During the past year, the Strand has found success in fundraising efforts to help keep the theater moving forward. The annual “Strand Call-a-Thon” raised $70,000 in 12 hours, and its “STRANDelicous” event got restaurants on the Square involved in the festivities. This year those events will return, DiMassimo said, and the Inaugural Strand Golf Classic will be added on May 22 at Cobblestone Golf Course. The group also plans a sing-along event to the film “Mamma Mia!” to build on the success of a past stage production of “Steel Magnolias.”
“Our board works around the clock,” DiMassimo said. “It shows how supportive of theater this community is.”
Keeping the lights on
But getting out of debt is just the start, as operating costs keep the Friends of the Strand looking down the road.
“The Strand will always be a work in progress,” said Earl Reece, the theater’s executive director.
Imler said Keeping the Strand operating takes about $17,000 a week.
“It’s an expensive proposition,” he said. “Our goal is to have a successful business operation. Freeing the debt is a major statement about our commitment.”
During 2012, the Strand received 40 percent of its income from tickets and concession sales, 26 percent from venue rentals and 34 percent from private donations.
A key target for the Friends of the Strand is to find some breathing room before payments toward a lease kick in within the next two years, Imler said.
The building housing the theater has been owned by the family of Marietta Councilman Philip Goldstein since 1976. When the Friends of the Strand began renovations, an agreement was drawn up to give the theater a lease through 2056, with no rent due until Jan. 1, 2015. At that time, rent payments of about $108,000 per year will kick in.
Reece said the theater is fully booked through August, and he is working to keep the venue busy beyond the summer.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that shows we produce have an impact,” Reece said.
Upcoming events include the annual “Motown Sound” musical revue in July, “Spotlight on Kids” showcasing child performers in July, a Lewis Grizzard tribute show in September and a performance of “Footloose” later this year. The theater has also booked local high school productions and other community events throughout the year.
“The Strand gives young entertainers a place to showcase their talents,” Ash said. “It gives people an opportunity.”
The Strand will lose a portion of its revenues when a longtime contract with The Atlanta Lyric Theatre runs out this summer. For the last five years, the Lyric has operated out of the Strand, but rental rates proved too costly for the theater company, and the two groups parted ways. Atlanta Lyric announced plans to start offering shows at the Jennie T. Anderson Theatre, a Cobb County-owned facility on South Marietta Parkway.