Clinton County commissioners propose no-interest loan for Murphy Theatre seating project


By Gary Huffenberger - ghuffenberger@wnewsj.com



From left, Clinton County Commissioner Brenda Woods reports to Clinton County Commissioners Patrick Haley and Kerry Steed regarding her visit with Murphy Theatre staff.


Gary Huffenberger | News Journal

WILMINGTON — Clinton County commissioners say they’re willing to offer a no-interest loan to the Murphy Theatre for new seats.

Clinton County Commissioner Brenda K. Woods recently met with Murphy Theatre Development Director Leslie Keller-Biehl and Executive Director Maretta Alden to propose the possibility of a loan.

Earlier this month, Murphy Theatre supporters asked county commissioners to give $300,000 for new seats.

The Murphy Theatre Seating Committee indicated when they met with commissioners Nov. 1 that there is no other project that can increase the theatre’s revenue more.

On Wednesday Clinton County Commissioners President Kerry R. Steed said, referring to the county’s loan proposal, “If they [Murphy Theatre Board of Trustees] want to do it, I’m for it, we’ll figure out a way to make it work. I think Pat [County Commissioner Patrick Haley] and Brenda [Woods] feel the same way.”

Woods related that Keller-Biehl and Alden both seemed very receptive to the idea of a loan with interest at 0 percent. Keller-Biehl and Alden are not board trustees but rather are theatre staffers.

When the Seating Committee made its request to commissioners, they said they hoped the job could be done in time for the theatre’s 100th anniversary celebration — a week filled with events July 20 through July 28, 2018. If that goal is to be met, the loan details will need to be worked out promptly so that the theatre can be penciled into the project schedule of Irwin Seating Company in time for the celebration.

Steed said the county could provide the Murphy Theatre Board of Trustees “a couple of options” on the loan arrangements — that is, regarding the loan’s duration and other conditions.

The county’s proposal of a no-interest loan, said Steed, means the county can provide a financing vehicle for the theatre to acquire new seats, without the county having to provide “free-and-clear grant dollars.”

Though the loan process hasn’t reached the funding stage, Steed in response to a question suggested the funds for a loan would probably come from “hospital dollars.” Basically, the phrase “hospital dollars” refers to the money associated with the county’s sale of the former county-owned Clinton Memorial Hospital.

Toward the end of Wednesday’s discussion on the topic, Steed said if a no-interest loan is a path the theatre board wants to pursue, county commissioners will look for every opportunity to make a loan work for them “in every scenario, whether in a great economy or a bad economy.”

At one juncture Wednesday, Haley said to Woods who presented the loan idea to Keller-Biehl and Alden, “Sounds like you made progress.” Both Keller-Biehl and Alden are on the theatre’s seating committee.

At the Nov. 1 appointment with commissioners, the backers of the performing arts community theater said their nonprofit can contribute $76,000 to a project to install new seats, with an estimated total cost of $376,000.

A written proposal presented Nov. 1 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.

Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.

From left, Clinton County Commissioner Brenda Woods reports to Clinton County Commissioners Patrick Haley and Kerry Steed regarding her visit with Murphy Theatre staff.
http://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2017/11/web1_this_one.jpgFrom left, Clinton County Commissioner Brenda Woods reports to Clinton County Commissioners Patrick Haley and Kerry Steed regarding her visit with Murphy Theatre staff. Gary Huffenberger | News Journal

By Gary Huffenberger

ghuffenberger@wnewsj.com