Tuesday, December 31, 2013
The Jackson City Council voted Monday to pump an additional $1.89 million into the city's Department of Human and Cultural Services to provide "funds needed for an expanded scope of services determined essential for the Thalia Mara project."
That project includes a complete renovation of the theater, which needs major renovation before it hosts the International Ballet Competition, beginning June 14, 2014. It may also come at considerable cost to regular users of the historic theater.
The city council voted 4-2 Nov. 19 in favor of adding a $5 surcharge to all ticket sales for events at Thalia Mara, once it reopens, to help pay for the renovations. Ward 1 Councilman Quentin Whitwell and Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon voted against the measure, citing concerns about the effect the surcharge could have on the local arts community after the IBC packs up and moves on.
Those concerns may not be unfounded.
Local promoter Arden Barnett, who has built his entertainment company ardenland around Jackson's music scene, said he won't be able to organize and promote concerts at Thalia Mara with the $5 surcharge in place.
"I think that surcharge is a tragic mistake," Barnett said. "A $40 ticket suddenly becomes a $45 ticket, then you add in the Ticketmaster charges, and you're paying nearly $55 or $60 a ticket. It adds up quickly, and five dollars is a huge spread. I know it's going to limit my ability to organize concerts there in the future."
Ardenland has hosted folk legends Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett and rock 'n' roll bands Wilco and Yes in the past 18 months, and while he said he's all for the renovations, he doesn't think the bill should be passed to the people who use the building the most, especially without their input.
"It's too much," he said. "I've already had to pass on two shows this year, and that's two shows that won't be happening in Jackson as a direct result of that decision."
Thalia Mara Hall Director Michael Raff, a former director of Human and Cultural Services, said the state has kicked in $1 million on top of the money the city is expected to pledge, and the private group "Friends of Thalia Mara Hall" has secured $1.3 million in pledged support, and hopes to raise more.
"We've got a fund set up through the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson so people can go through them to make a charitable donation," Friends of Thalia Mara spokesman Kelly Scrivner said.
"The $1 million in matching funds from the state will go toward accessibility, and the city will be working on things like safety and air conditioning, so what Friends of Thalia Mara will be using its funds on are the cosmetic aspects of the renovation."
Scrivner added that the organization plans to continue raising money throughout the renovation.
Raff said the building needs around $5 million in work, including replacing a 45-year-old HVAC unit, new chairs, carpet, restroom renovations and accessibility.
The lighting and sound system are also due an update, Raff added, and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant seating is also a concern.
"The only ADA seating we currently have is on the back row," Raff said. "That's not fair. We want to make better seating available to folks in wheelchairs. Once you add all of these things together, you can see why it won't be hard to spend $5 million."
Thalia Mara will be open next week for filming of the James Brown biopic "Get On Up," but it will close its doors for five months after that to undergo renovations.
Both Raff and Mayor Chokwe Lumumba cited economic studies showing that the impact was approximately $10 million the last time Jackson hosted the IBC in 2009.