Tough economy puts Haven work on hold for now

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 18, 2009

There has been little activity at Brookhaven’s historic Haventheater since the restoration of the building’s façade wascelebrated in grand fashion last October, and Haven chiefs expectthere will be little more until the national economy improves.

Brookhaven Little Theatre Vice President Sha Walker said theHaven’s multi-phase restoration project has been put on holdbecause two of the project’s main contributors – the MississippiDepartment of Archives and History and the Mississippi ArtsCommission – have no more grants to offer. Due to decreased staterevenue, the Legislature did not appropriate enough funding for thetwo agencies’ long list of grant opportunities in fiscal year 2009,he said, and neither agency is expecting increased funding in thefiscal year 2010 budget, which lawmakers are crafting now.

“Grant funds have dried up,” Walker said. “With the budgetproblems we’re having, those are the first things that getcut.”

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Until grant funding is restored to the organizations, Walkersaid the BLT board would not attempt any renovation projects on itsown. The board is waiting for matching grant funds to pair with itsSave the Haven funding for Phase Three of its restoration project,which informal project estimates value at around $300,000, hesaid.

The third phase would include renovations to the theater’slobby, concession area, restrooms and the new Marquee Room, whichwas created when the old Posey Place was enclosed during Phase Twolast year.

“We can either expend what we have on a small project or sit onthese funds in a CD, collect interest and wait for the economy toimprove,” Walker said. “Our money is collecting interest – it’s notgoing anywhere.”

When the economy improves and grant funding is restored, Walkersaid the Haven is in good position to be on the receiving end ofincoming funding.

He said BLT officials keep close contact with supporting stateorganizations and the Haven is “on their radar” for future grantopportunities because of its past success in managing and usingthose grants. The theatre was the recipient of a $60,000 grant fromMAC last year.

The entire $1 million restoration project has been grant-aided.BLT officials first began working on the old theatre in 2007, whenPhase One of the project – an $80,000 job to replace the theatre’sroof – was completed.

Phase Two, the renovation of the building’s entire façade, beganlast August and wrapped up in October. The $180,000 phase saw thewhole front of the building – from sidewalk to rooftop – restoredand repainted, and the once-glowing tower sign was completelyrebuilt and fitted with new neon lights to glow again.

After Phase Three is eventually undertaken and completed, BLTofficials plan to address the theatre’s stage, backstage areas,seating and balcony areas in phases four and five. An estimated$440,000 more will be needed to take on those large projects.

All BLT can do now, however, is wait.

“I’m sure there are some federal grants available, but wehaven’t found any we would qualify for yet,” Walker said. “And, inlight of the local economy, we’ve decided to pull back on localfundraisers. The community has been very generous, and we don’twant to go to them again right now.”

The Haven’s usage, however, continues. BLT President TommySproles said the board is focusing on Haven activities that willgenerate revenue, continuing with theatrical programs and lookingto rent the facility out to local groups for various events, likelast October’s Brookstock at the Haven.

The theatre’s play season – which has already featured “YouCan’t Take it With You,” “London Suite” and “The Wizard of Oz” -will finish in July with the 2009 Summer Drama Camp for kids, whichbegins on Monday, July 13, and extends through Friday, July 24.Children participating in the camp will perform the play “Alice inWonderland.”

The two-week camp is designed to teach the basics of theatre tochildren in grades K-7 and raise awareness and money for the Haven.Sproles said BLT officials are hoping for at least 50 participantsin this year’s camp, who, at $150 each, could raise around $7,500for the theatre.

“When we put on the plays, all the family members come in and itgenerates a couple thousand dollars in revenue for us,” he said.”But the biggest thing it does is let the community know there arethings going on there and, hopefully, it will increase involvement.We have to pass the torch on to someone.”