Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 20, 2014

Orpheum Theatre board dissolves

By DIANE VANCE | Jun 17, 2013

The nonprofit board Orpheum Theatre and Fairfield Film Institute, formed last fall to bring Fairfield’s movie theater back to life, is being dissolved, and plans presented to the community for renovations and showing films are moving forward.

“There was always a for-profit and a nonprofit entity,” said building managing owner/partner Chris Johnson of Mandala 6 Land Partners.

“The board always intended to hire a theater manager, it intended to hire Kristian Day,” he said. “The nonprofit board was never intended to manage the theater.”

Johnson said the plans publicized — about updating the larger south theater with digitalization, refurbishing the lobby in Art Deco style, adding unique food concessions and showing various genres of films — are still in place.

“Due to technical and logistical differences between the nonprofit group and the building owner, we weren’t able to have a direct business relationship,” said Johnson. “Alternatives were offered, the group chose not to engage or participate in the alternatives.

“Another nonprofit group will probably form, specifically focused on the film institute side,” he said.

The nonprofit board is no longer needed, said Jean Greco, chairwoman of the dissolving Orpheum Theatre and Fairfield Film Institute board.

“Our work is done,” she said. “It was a business decision. We looked at ways to redevelop the theater. It was decided it would work as a for-profit plan.

“Starting off, we looked at every angle to redevelop the theater,” said Greco. “Nonprofits are subject to lots of IRS stipulations and it takes a very long time to get plans moving.

“Chris [Johnson] was looking to get the theater open for this summer.

“I don’t think the community will lose out on anything, I think the plan will turn out the same as envisioned,” she said.

“Looking into the future, volunteers could form a film institute group,” she said.

Kristian Day, also a member of the nonprofit board although a resident of the Des Moines area, has worked with several small town theaters to renovate and establish formats that work for individual theaters.

He produced and distributed “Capone’s Whiskey,” a documentary on Iowa-made Templeton Rye, and through that process of marketing his film, founded Modern American Cinema, an independent film distribution company. He also serves as director of the Donna Reed Foundation in Denison.

Day, hired by Johnson as the owner/operator of the Orpheum Theater business, will be in Fairfield for a few months, setting up a management team to operate the business.

“The idea of keeping a nonprofit did not work out,” said Day. “It missed a deadline — then an extended deadline — to have a plan in place. We’ll have a local on-site manager seven days a week at the theater.

“Sheila Ross has not been on the board since December.”

Ross published a letter to the editor in Thursday’s Fairfield Weekly Reader about the nonprofit board being disbanded. Ross did not answer her phone today.

“My goal at the Orpheum Theater is to have good films shown,” said Day. “And to have a good environment to view them.”

Johnson’s plan includes having two theaters in operation. He said the north, smaller theater could be ready for showing films in a few months.

“The lobby could be ready in a few weeks,” said Johnson. “It has a full kitchen and lounge. We have a Des Moines restaurant, Tacopocalypse, known as a high-end fusion eatery, coming within a few weeks. We’ll have the coffee espresso and tea bar ready. We want a dessert concessions, also.”

Johnson said the lobby and food concessions could open before the theaters are ready to show films.

“The first booking I have for the smaller theater is Walter Day and Video Galaxies on Aug. 10,” said Day.

“I’ve been chair sampling. We’re ordering brand new seats for the theater. The stage [in the north theater] is extended 10 feet so the space can be used also for productions or lectures,” said Day.

Johnson said the north theater would be ready first because it’s smaller, flatter and easier to get finished.

“It’s casual,” he said. “It can seat about 200, we’re sizing it down to 150. The new seats, about 100, will be in the center. Along the side, we’ll have tables and chairs seating.

“The south theater is the bigger, more traditional theater with a balcony. It’s going to take a littler longer to get renovated,” said Johnson.

Day said the larger theater will show new-release movies. The smaller theater will be used more for showing documentaries and other films.

“I’m partnering with Stuart Tanner at M.U.M. and the new master’s in film degree program,” said Day. “We’ll be able to show student films and I can distribute them to other theaters. It’s a great opportunity for Fairfield to see students’ work and a great opportunity for students to get a wide audience.”

The nonprofit board had a goal of raising $300,000 for the theater.

Greco said the board is grateful to donors who contributed to the goal. The $3,000 contributed will be returned to the donors, she said.

“We received several cute and wonderful logos in our logo contest for Orpheum Theater,” said Greco. “We haven’t chosen a winning one; we’ll turn that over to Chris [Johnson] and Kristian [Day]. It may still be used in some way.”

Johnson said, “The building owners appreciate all the work volunteers and the nonprofit board accomplished to move things forward.”

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