University to lease historic Columbia theater

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri has agreed to lease a historic Columbia theater that some local preservationists feared would close its doors.

The university announced a three-year deal Thursday with the nonprofit Missouri Symphony Society, the group that manages the 83-year-old Missouri Theatre on Ninth Street in downtown Columbia.

The Columbia Daily Tribune ( http://bit.ly/ol38tT ) reports the university will pay $12,000 a month and have an option to buy the theatre for $3.7 million once its lease expires. The university's share will be reduced by $3,500 since it will receive lease payments from a frozen yogurt shop and the Columbia Art League, which rent portions of the building.

The former vaudeville house reopened in 2008 amid a $10 million renovation but was soon unable to pay its bills. The theater temporarily closed in 2010, only to again open on a limited basis several months later while relying on symphony society volunteers rather than paid employees.

Society board member Carole Sue DeLaite called the deal a "new beginning."

"I think music lovers in town, I think historic preservationists, I think the community at large will embrace this as a wonderful partnership and a solution to financial difficulties and uncertainty about the theater's future," she said. "This means that people who love theater and a permanent presence — we can assume the university is a permanent presence in our community — are going to make the best possible utilization of the building for people to enjoy theater, dance, music and public performances of all kinds."

University employees from Jesse Hall, which operates a successful campus concert series, will help manage the off-campus venue. The university expects to increase programming at the Missouri Theatre and also use the facility for large events such as graduation ceremonies and new student welcome activities.

"I turn away more events than I can tell you," Jesse Hall manager John Murray said. "Some days I turn away three or four. Many of those are routing dates because an artist happens to be in the area and have an extra day, so they cut us a deal. We can't accommodate any of those requests."

The university remains interested in building a new campus performing arts center and improved rehearsal spaces for its music school. Such a venue has been on the College of Arts and Science's wish list for decades.

That building is designed to feature a 350-seat recital hall and 1,000-seat concert hall. Arts and Sciences dean Mike O'Brien told the Tribune that the concert hall component could be eliminated if the university buys the 1,216-seat Missouri Theatre.

"Quite frankly, a lot of people in town love the Missouri Theatre and have donated a boatload of money," he said. "(A university purchase) could knock millions off the cost of a new School of Music building. That seems like a huge win for everyone."

The theater was dormant for four years in the mid-1980s before the symphony society's 1987 purchase. The group was able to raise private money to cover its renovation costs but was unable to cover its debt.


Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

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