Projects at the music hall now make it easier to secure more state money later, the legislator said.
WARREN -- State Rep. Randy Law says he wants the W.D. Packard Music Hall to use a $1 million state bond that has been pledged to the long-awaited Robins Theater renovation downtown.
"You've got to look at where we can use that money now," said Law, of Warren, R-64th. "I think it's just being practical. It's not anti-Robins Theater renovation. It's just, how do we best utilize $1 million in the fall?"
The music hall in January got $100,000 in a last-minute addition to the state's capital appropriations bill, Law explained.
That same bill preserves a future $1 million bond issue, promised over the past five years for renovation of the theater. Law had helped save that money last year when another lawmaker in an outside district tried to grab it for other projects.
The problem with the Robins project, Law said, is that there is no active effort locally to raise matching dollars from donors. Past renovation estimates have been about $6 million or $7 million.
The once-regal theater on East Market Street, just off Courthouse Square, opened in 1923 and was one of Ohio's first structures of its size built specifically for the film industry. Since closing in the 1970s, it has fallen into disrepair. Suggestions have been to transform the theater into a performing arts center and civic auditorium that wouldn't compete with Packard Hall.
The music hall's board in recent years, meanwhile, has undertaken some renovations there, including revamping the lobby, adding a ticket office, re-doing the band library and board room, sound and lighting improvements, and replacing a stage curtain. For the last several years, the city has allocated $250,000 annually to the music hall.
Law stressed he would still like to see the Robins Theater be part of downtown Warren's renovation.
"They aren't anywhere close to putting together the kind of monies that I can say this is moving along at a good rate," Law said. "People know it's not close. It would be a very difficult sell for me to say we are going to use that money [at Robins]. It's not happening and people know that."
Use it or lose it
When the state budget reappropriation comes up in September, Law said the $1 million should be earmarked for the music hall. The reappropriation bill moves around funds not used in the previous fiscal year.
"You can't just leave it on the books out there," Law said. "The tricky part is not losing it to someone else, because when you put the ball in the air, you do put it in the air."
Law wants Warren to keep the ball, and so does city Councilman Bob Dean, D-at large, who is chairman of council's Packard Music Hall/Robins Theater committee.
"If he's forecasting there's a good chance we could lose that money, and he wants to get it in the pouch for Packard ... it sounds like an idea that would be appropriate," Dean said.
Dean has met with music hall board members, whom he called "energetic and positive," and his committee will meet Feb. 19 to look at how to best work with the music hall. "The first one on our plate right now is the music hall, that's the one we can get our arms around," he said.
The committee is Dean and council members Alford Novak, D-2nd, and Susan Hartman, D-7th. The Packard board "has got three friends on this committee," Dean said.
John Bentz, music hall trustee chairman, explained that the hall has a plan as large as $8 million or $9 million for a complete overhaul -- a project larger than the city of Warren can afford. The $100,000 will provide for renovating dressing rooms; the $1 million would add a pit elevator that would allow easier access to a lower level for big pieces of equipment; an elevator for people, especially elderly patrons; and a new stage rigging system.
Bentz, of Charles H. Bentz Associates, is a national fund-raising consultant who has done volunteer work for Gov. Bob Taft. He was one of the people originally involved in securing the $1 million commitment for the Robins.
"It's been a long time since we've really done anything on the Robins Theater and people down in Columbus are making moves on that money," he said. "Certainly, if it has to be moved to keep it in the district, I would love to see it go to the music hall."
Anthony Iannucci, director of the Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corporation, however, has some reservations. WRAP is working on a comprehensive downtown plan that will provide a better cost estimate for the Robins project, he said.
But there still has to be enough money available from fund-raising and other sources to make the theater a viable operation to get state dollars, Iannucci noted.
"If Randy can say the City of Warren is going to lose this, I'd rather see it go to a Warren project," Iannucci said. "Our concern is, if you get dollars for a project and then you don't do the project or see anything proceeding, going back and asking [the state] for more money might be more difficult."
Should such a fund-raising effort take off, Law said an appropriation for Robins could be sought in a later capital budget, and Bentz agreed.
"I don't think taking it from the Robins Theater right now is going to prevent us from going back for the Robins Theater in the future," Bentz said, noting Warren could show it made a decision to put the money to use at the music hall.
The Robins is owned by Brad Phillips, according to the city. He couldn't be reached Friday.
Law, who stunned opponents by winning a first House term in a Democratic stronghold last year, finds himself in the majority Republican party in Columbus and has had strong party support. He would need to get both House and Senate backing to shift the dollars to the music hall.
"We don't want to turn this into a war between districts, and there'll be a lot of negotiations going on to keep that from happening," Law stressed.
Law asked Bentz to provide a specific list of projects that can start soon.
"Whatever of the early projects they can get done with the money, I want to see them do," Law said. Getting the work started will make it easier to move the big money over later, he said.
Packard Music Hall, according to its Web site, averages more than 100,000 in attendance each year. It is the site of Broadway touring productions, concerts, ballets, children's programs, theater, corporate meetings, high school graduations, dance recitals and professional wrestling.
"That music hall is used," Bentz said. "We have a variety of different programs and a lot of different types of users, and we do enjoy a fair amount of community support."