Carroll H. Rasch
From: Saint Louis Park, MN
Registered: Apr 2005
posted September 07, 2007 10:52 AM
Thanks to Lynn Blomgren for this information:
(Morris is home to one of the best State Universities in Minnesota which should guarantee some audience for "out of the main-stream films. It already has one of the best Italian restaurants I have stumbled into. This should work. I think it is such a great Art Deco / International Power Style building. I expect to turn around and see Wild Bill Langer or Kingfish Huey Long or some other dangerous politician of the 1920s and 30s to be munching popcorn in the next row.)
NEWSPAPER ARTICLE BEGINS:
Bold plans for Morris Theatre
Morris Sun Tribune - 09/05/2007
By Philip Drown
Anyone who has ever tried to get anything done by committee might look upon the quick and efficient action by a group of local citizens currently working to purchase and restore the Morris Theatre with some measure of admiration.
In the span of approximately one week in mid-June the group managed to organize a committee, form a corporation, sign a purchase agreement, and sketch out a broad-stroke plan for operating the Morris Theatre as a service to the community.
What began with informal discussions among several people on the value of a local theater to the community has grown into a legal entity with a distinct vision and strong sense of purpose.
According to Charlie Glasrud, a local attorney and one of the key organizers of the group, the theater will continue to operate as a “first run” theater, showing new releases and recently released films.
But the group’s long term intention for the facility is much greater. Plans range from updating and renovating the structure to implementing some new visionary programming ideas.
One of the plans on the drawing board involves expanding the screen capacity of the theater to show more films.
“We found out from people who have run successful small town movie theaters that multiple screens are essential for success,” said Glasrud. “And we have concluded that that is in fact the case.”
“One of the issues with film distribution is that film distribution companies take anywhere from ninety percent to thirty percent of your ticket sales,” said steering committee member Tina Didreckson. “For first run movies like “Spiderman,” the contract requires that it be the only movie on the screen for three weeks.”
Contract requirements such as these often wind up excluding some local moviegoers who may not be interested in that particular film, Didreckson.
They also cause problems for the theater owner who, becau se of the requirements, cannot accommodate many patrons by showing other films. To satisfy that issue and allow for more variety of showings, plans are underway to divide the theater and make it a three screen facility.
“The main floor has the capacity for about five hundred seats,” said Glasrud. “If you go to the Morris Theatre and look at the space it is immense. You could put two smaller theatres in that space and still have a two hundred seat theater down front.”
With multiple screens the theater will have the same utility costs, the same costs to sell refreshments, and the same costs to sell tickets, but will be able to offer the public much more, Glasrud said.
In addition to first run films, the theater will provide a more diverse offering of film experiences to moviegoers such as classic films, family oriented special events, and independent films such as those shown at the Sundance Film Festival.
Making this vision a reality will take a lo t of work and creativity, but both Glasrud and Didreckson express confidence in the collection of people on board to lead the charge. According to Glasrud, those who have come together have already demonstrated a high degree of talent, commitment, and passion for the project.
“This is a functional group of people,” said Glasrud.
The steering committee, which now meets every week to formulate strategies and tackle issues as they arise, pulled together in record time and produced significant results. The process began from several directions almost from the moment current owner Curt Barber decided to put the theater on the market.
“Curt listed the theater June 9 and I found out about it and started writing a business plan,” said Didreckson, who has already been selected to manage the new enterprise. “I knew I didn’t have the money to do it myself, but figured I’ll write the business plan and see what happens.”
At the same time that Didreckson was sk etching out her plans, an informal discussion group was going on among several local people who had an interest in the theater and wanted to see it preserved.
When Glasrud learned that the theatre was for sale, he found himself having casual conversations with friends about the importance of the movie theater to the community and the importance of protecting it.
“I often thought over the years as we would drive through rural Minnesota towns,” Glasrud said, “‘Do they have a theatre? I see they used to have a theatre.’ I always thought that the loss of the downtown movie theater was an indicator in the vitality and future of that town.”
Other people had the same feelings and those feelings grew into deeper discussion, said Glasrud. The group of friends and interested people began communicating by e-mail initially, but had not solidified their intentions. Then, when another entity in Morris demonstrated serious interest in the building, the group rea lized they had better organize quickly.
“At that point we mobilized,” said Glasrud.
A message went out to an e-mail list on a Friday inviting people to come to a meeting the next morning – the Saturday of Prairie Pioneer Days – to discuss the serious possibility of purchasing the theater and managing it as a community. Meeting organizers were impressed with the response.
“We had no idea if it would be five or six people there and it turned out to be twenty-five people.”
As discussion progressed, the group realized that if they were going to seriously pursue this, they needed to form a business entity, get money for a down payment, and designate people legally authorized to make an offer and sign a purchase agreement.
They went around the room and got informal indications of financial support, which Glasrud referred to as “encouraging.” By the following Tuesday, they had an formed a limited liability corporation, opened a bank account, select ed officers, and made a purchase offer on the theater.
“Within five days of learning the other group was interested, we bought a theatre,” said Glasrud.
The steering committee formed as a subgroup of the original Saturday morning discussion. Steering committee members are: John Amundson; Warrenn Anderson; Dave Aronson; Barbara Burke; Tina Didreckson; Dave Erickson; Bart Finzel; Susan Gilbert; Charlie Glasrud; Kristin Kearns; Katie Mackenzie; and Greg Thorson
Immediately, the group realized that each individual’s interests and connections were bringing necessary ingredients to the mix.
“The thing came together and it was like, who will manage this?” Glasrud said. “And there’s Tina. Who knows about innovative business forms in this part of the world? Well, Warren Anderson does. Who knows an architect? Well, Dave Aronson does. Who knows about sound systems? Well, it turns out Greg Thorson is in to that.”
At present, the group is looking a t a cooperative model as the ultimate business structure. They are not raising funds at this point as the focus in this early stage is to be diligent in setting up the cooperative structure.
“What’s really great about that is that everybody knows what a co-op is and what it means,” said Glasrud. “It means this is your theater. Come and participate with the rest of us. If people have ownership in the theater they may want to come a little more often.”
According to Didreckson, one of the biggest needs at this juncture is people.
“This is a big job,” said Didreckson. “We will need volunteers. We want this to be community owned, community managed, and community supported.”
The final transfer of ownership will take place on Oct. 1 of this year. While there is plenty of work ahead, the committee’s first priority is to make a smooth transition and keep the theater running without interruption.
“First and foremost, we want to continue runnin g that theater and find ways that we can improve it immediately and start getting the funds to move on,” said Glasrud. “Later, as we remodel, there will be some down time for the theater.”
Anyone interested in learning more may visit the group’s Web site: www.morristheatre.net For more information, contact theater committee by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, by PO Box 552, or by phone at (320) 585-1777.
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