Salem Community Theater Rear Addition Finally Going to Happen

Salem City Council Commits $157,000 in Downtown Tax Increment Financing To Complete the Project

The Salem City Council has agreed to use $157,000 in downtown tax increment financing district funds to finance a back addition to the Salem Community Theater and Cultural Center. The project has been in the planning for the past eight years and state funding was secured several times, but never was released.

Theater Board President Drew Johnson explained to the council what the 1,500 square foot addition would do for the theater.

"We would like to see this project move forward. One of the things this would afford the downtown area, specifically the theater, is a production facility, much-needed dressing, makeup, and bathroom facilities. Backstage there is very little space past the curtains. If you have been to one of our productions everything you see has to be kept basically in the area the size of an aisle all the way down."

Johnson says performers have to go across the street and use the bathrooms at the Salem Fire Station and if they need a costume change they have to walk outside to the front of the building.

In addition to convenience, Johnson says the addition will allow the theater to do three things.

"Increased programming is our fundamental goal. Currently, the stage has to be utilized the entire time we are in production for a show. Therefore it negates the possibility of a different one night or weekend event because there is a set being built, painted, constructed in the same space we would utilize for those events. We think it would provide economic growth because as we get people into town through our productions they will spend money locally."

The third goal is to give youth more activities.

The council agreed to waive bids on the project and use a contractor who helped finalize the plans, Wohltman Construction of Effingham. Owner Randy Turner says work could begin as soon as ground unfreezes to allow for footings to be poured for the 1,500 square foot addition.

The theater will use $25,000 of its funding to cover any contingencies on the project.

Mayor Rex Barbee and the council felt it was time for the project to become reality after several disappointments with past financing efforts. The latest was the state taking back funds left in the city's revolving loan fund before the city could finalize the project. The city is still being promised they will be able to make application for two projects in the future to use the more than $1-million that was in the fund.

The use of the TIF funds will deplete that account for this year, but the district will create around $60,000 that will be available for projects next year.