(Leitchfield, KY) – A grassroots campaign to save the Alexander Hotel and Alice Theatre has taken many twist and turns over the past several months, and Tuesday evening a new idea was presented to the Leitchfield City Council.
In previous meetings, Councilman Steven Elder – who started a facebook page promoting the idea of saving the historic building – had presented the idea of the city’s tourism commission purchasing the building for approximately $400,000 and turning the Alice Theatre into a community theatre and the hotel into possible office space.
Elder’s idea was met with great reservation from the Leitchfield Tourism Commission, who is concerned with taking on such a large project and investment at the same time they are working on a large outdoor pool project.
Tuesday evening, Dwight Embry and Greg Barnard attended to the council meeting. Embry said they were representing a group of local citizens who want to purchase the building and lease the theatre portion to the city or tourism to be used as a community theatre.
Embry proposed the city or tourism would pay for the approximately $300,000 in renovation costs to the theatre in exchange for five years of free rent.
Embry said, “We think the Alexander Hotel is the keystone of the square, we really do. We think it should be privately owned rather than government owned, which is what got me going this route. We think it needs to be restored and functioning. We would like to see a nice restaurant in there; I’d like to see a community theatre back in there and eventually do something with the upstairs but I’m not sure we can do this without the city or tourism help. What we would like to do is lease the theatre portion to the city and we would like to offer a five year free lease in exchange for the expense of renovations. Basically, we’ve done a lot of research and we’ve done our homework and it would be very difficult to pull off without the city’s help.”
Tourism Director Ilsa Johnson said the commission heard Embry’s proposal during their Tuesday morning meeting. She said the commission would like to see a business plan, in which Embry said the investors could get to the commission.
Embry said the restaurant would be separate with no tax dollars involved with that portion of the building. He said the theatre would be a separate project and said it could be setup as a non-profit. He said they do not want to micro-manage the theatre.
Johnson said there was a clear line between tourisms job to promote a project and operating a project and she stated that tourism was only in the promotion of events.
Councilman Elder said the daily operation of the theatre would be the job of an arts council that could be established as a non-profit board. He said that entity would book and promote events.
Embry drew a connection to the city pool saying, “Who will run the pool when it’s finished? It’s a similar situation here.” He said the pool, the ballparks and the theatre will never be profit generating entities but he said the benefit will far outweigh the costs.
The ideas of how the community theatre could be used included the local Bluegrass Opry shows, movies, and plays. The theatre will not be able to show newly released movies but would have the capabilities to show movies as a community event.
The renovation process was discussed. City Attorney Ken Smart said it would be easier for the investors to renovate and the city pay rental fees to cover the renovation costs. He said if the city gets involved in the renovation process it would be less efficient and the bidding process and other regulations could slow down the project. Councilman Elder asked if the city employees could be used during the renovation process to cut down on cost and Embry liked the idea.
Embry said, “What we’re looking for is a commitment of some type from the city and tourism.”
“We’re not doing this as a profit thing. The guys involved in this is just for civic, they see an opportunity here to improve downtown. None of us are going to make a nickel from it; maybe 20 years down the road our children might see a dividend from it but that’s not why we are doing it, we’re doing it for the good of the community. So after five years when the lease is up the rent would be below market value is all I can say.”
Councilman Billy Dallas asked if the investors would be opposed to a 10 year lease as opposed to a five and Embry said he didn’t think they would be.
The council decided to pass a resolution to show their support of the city working with the investments and said they would urge the tourism to do the same.