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Fox Theatre in Walsenburg seeking new operator

by Gretchen Orr

WALSENBURG — Spanish Peaks Community Foundation board members Debi Patch, Hugh Brown, and Gretchen Orr, along with SPCF administrator Mike Peters, met with Huerfano  County Commissioners Ray Garcia, Max Vezzani and Gerald Cisneros on Tuesday, July 11 afternoon to discuss the FOX Theatre and plans for its future. The FOX was forced to close recently due to problems with the projector resulting in declining attendance and weekly losses on movies shown.

Repairing the projector is not an option, as the cost of repairs are close to the cost of replacement, with no warranty in place to cover the next break down.

SPCF, the non-profit charged with overseeing operations at the FOX, and Peters, have been reviewing the financials and researching how to replace the projector, get the theatre reopened, fundraise, and put together a business plan for the future that will allow the venue to diversify its operations to operate effectively as a movie house, music and special events venue, and conference hall.

It is difficult for theatre venues in small communities to operate at a profit. They, like the FOX, rely heavily on volunteers to take tickets, sell concessions, and help out with the myriad other tasks required to keep the theatre in operation.

Patch and Peters told the commissioners they considered two options to get the projector and associated vital equipment replaced and a climate controlled enclosure built to protect it from the temperature variations and dust in the aging building, at a total cost of approximately $40,000.

The first option was for SPCF to purchase the new system and build the enclosure. This approach would drain SPCF’s cash reserves, leaving insufficient funds to continue operation of the theatre.

The second option the SPCF board considered was to borrow funds to purchase the system, and pay the note out of revenue after the theatre reopens.

Complicating both options are the terms of the new lease being offered to SPCF by Huerfano County, the owner of the building.

The new 39 and a half year lease must be in place for grant writing and tax credit revenue generation projects for the FOX being pursued by David Wise, the City of Walsenburg’s intern charged with rejuvenating the downtown area. The grants and tax credits, potentially totalling $335,000, hold great promise for completely repairing and upgrading the FOX, and turning it into a downtown gem that can help drive future economic growth in Walsenburg.

The lease with the county however, requires that SPCF, as tenant of the building, be primarily responsible for ongoing building maintenance not covered by insurance. With the age and current physical condition of the theatre, the SPCF board was unable to determine how the theatre could, with its limited financial resources, operate profitably enough to get a projector in place and keep the bills paid until grants and tax credits start coming in.

Patch, speaking on behalf of the SPCF board, told the commissioners that at the Monday July 10 SPCF board meeting, they took realistic stock of the situation, and came to the realization that all current board members do not have the time and energy necessary to keep the organization going through these challenges.

She said the board voted to ask the county, as owner of the building, if they would be interested in assuming the management and operation of the FOX, with the full support of the SPCF board and administrator through the transition. SPCF would donate its funds to the county with the stipulation they be used to purchase the new projector, and get the theatre reopened as soon as possible.

John Galusha, who resigned from SPCF at the conclusion of the Monday night meeting, told the commissioners the SPCF board is moving to dissolve the foundation, and would donate its other assets to other county non-profits.

The county commissioners unanimously stated their support for the FOX Theatre as crucial to the community and area, but said they do not have the capability to actually run it. Commissioner Max Vezzani suggested the county put out an RFP to find a private individual or company to manage the theatre.  Galusha suggested approaching the City of Walsenburg to see if Wise could be put in charge, or changing the job description for a county recreation director to include FOX management, and pointed out we need a Friends of the FOX group to be in charge of volunteer efforts.

In the end, the county commissioners and SPCF board agreed to delay dissolution in order to do more research, consider their options, and meet again.

Wise asked permission to seek new SPCF board members in order to avoid the dissolution of the group and keep SPCF in charge of the FOX. Those present concurred that would be a good idea, and encouraged him to do so before the next meeting.

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