WILMINGTON — Saying there’s no other project that can increase its revenue more, Murphy Theatre supporters asked county commissioners for $300,000 for new seats.
Backers of the performing arts community theater said their nonprofit can contribute $76,000 to the capital improvement project, with an estimated total cost of $376,000.
Commissioners did not take action on the request Wednesday, with two of them saying they wanted to evaluate the matter further having just received the proposal earlier in the day. A third commissioner, Patrick Haley, came out in favor.
A written proposal presented to commissioners stated, “One of the biggest complaints we hear from our patrons is our seating. The current seats are hard, too small, uncomfortable, they don’t automatically close, the splintered veneer backs in the balcony snag clothing and some of the seats are broken.”
“We are losing revenue due to extremely tight spacing of the seats. We estimate with new seats, we will gain $15,000 to $20,000 a year,” added the handout.
Increasing the revenue stream ties in with the matter of the theatre becoming self-sustaining, said Leslie Keller-Biehl, who is Murphy Theatre development and marketing director.
In particular, the balcony seats are an issue.
People have decided against attending an event at the theatre after being told there are only balcony seats available, according to the proposal.
The balcony seats are the originals from 1918, made of horsehair covered in leather.
In the balcony, there are 5¾ inches between the seats. Current code mandates there be twice that — 12 inches between seats.
Presently, there are 203 seats in the balcony.
The request to commissioners breaks down to $150,000 this year and $150,00 next year. The Murphy Theatre supporters hope the job can be done in time for the theatre’s 100th anniversary celebration — a week filled with events July 20 through July 28, 2018.
If the seating funds are approved, Murphy Theatre leaders say there is a plan to sell seat licenses for the new seats. The patron would have first right to purchase a ticket to that seat for shows.
After the presentation by Keller-Biehl and others, Clinton County Commissioner Patrick Haley described the theatre as a centerpiece of Wilmington and Clinton County. He also said it benefits all the community through its variety of events.
Haley added he wanted to go on record and then said he is in favor of the requested expenditure.
Commissioners President Kerry R. Steed expressed interest in how much revenue might be generated through the seat licenses program, and Keller-Biehl said she would get details on the program to the commissioners.
Commissioner Brenda K. Woods said as a first-year commissioner she wants to get input from the public on what it would like to see done with funds from the sale of Clinton Memorial Hospital — a pool of funds sometimes called the Legacy Fund. Haley had previously referred to the use of money associated with the sale of the former county-owned CMH when he expressed his support of the theatre’s funding request.
Presently, there is about $3 million in hand for the Legacy Fund, with a few more deferred annual payments to come.
Also pertinent to the Murphy Theatre request is that in the past there’s been a desire expressed by some officials that the Legacy Fund be treated as an investment that lasts for generations by protecting — not spending — the principal. In that event, the funds awarded to applicants would be solely interest dollars generated by the principal.
Earlier this year, Clinton County Job and Family Services Director Kathi Spirk suggested to commissioners that the Legacy Fund could be the source to address an unexpected shortfall in dollars that’s occurred due to an increase in foster care placements related to the opioid epidemic.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.