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December 10, 2012

Foothills head mulls impact of theater closure

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

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Directors of Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center will meet today for an annual meeting to not only consider fiscal and programming plans but also celebrate accomplishments in the past two years, the board president said Sunday.   
 
``We have come a long way,’’ Dick Miller of the Foothills board and mayor of Oneonta.
 
Foothills, a not-for-profit organization on Market Street downtown, has gained stability by paying down on debts and generating revenue, Miller said. But the center continues to face ``always precarious'' fiscal waters that produce periodic funding gaps, he said.
 
Meanwhile, the Oneonta Theatre’s pending closure Jan. 1 could have two impacts on Foothills, Miller said. The first would be filling a programming gap, he said, and the second could be a fundraising challenge as Foothills continues its annual campaign when would-be donors might be drawn by an effort to save the historic Oneonta Theatre at 47 Chestnut St. downtown.
 
Factors influencing the fate of the two organizations include the area’s small population with limited philanthropic resources, Miller said, and the differences between running a for-profit business, the Oneonta Theatre, and a not-for-profit organization, Foothills. 
 
``The best thing would be to have both entities to survive,’’ Miller said. ``I have worked to that end.’’
 
But if only were to survive, the ``harsh reality’’ is that Foothills would be the better facility because of its mission to serve the community, its history of public funding and its prominent location on Market Street, Miller said.
 
Foothills' annual budget is about $450,000, Miller said, and the center’s monthly operating budget is about $30,000 for payroll, utilities and other expenses. The center’s staff includes an executive director, a manager of operations, a facilities manager and an administrator. 
 
Foothills has programmed about 422 events between Jan. 1, 2011, and Oct. 31, Miller said. The events have included performances, space for election polling and public hearings, reception services for weddings, business meetings and other gatherings, he said.
 
``We have been able to make the place a real community center,’’ Miller said. ``We have to be relevant, and I think we’ve proven that we are.’’
 
Of the 422 uses, 29 were events of the type that competed with the Oneonta Theatre, Miller said. The other activities at Foothills were uses for which the Oneonta Theatre wasn’t a practical venue, he said.
 
Miller said he has discussed cooperation and collaborative efforts with the Oneonta Theatre and remains willing to resume talks. For example, discussions included forming a for-profit or not-for-profit entity to program and administer both venues, he said.
Tom Cormier, owner of the Oneonta Theatre building, which includes apartments and businesses, didn’t return a call to his cellphone at about 7:45 p.m. Sunday. 
 
The Friends of the Oneonta Theatre, a nonprofit organization, has been interested in the fate of the theater built in 1897, and Patrice Macaluso, FOTO president, said the group’s board would meet with Cormier this week.
 
Also today at Foothills, the 18-member board will elect officers, according to Miller, who plans to continue as president. 
 
In January 2010, four Foothills staff members were fired as the organization struggled with a fiscal crisis. Miller later that year stepped up to serve as Foothills board president, and the board has been reorganized and expanded.
 
Foothills owes about $800,000 to a group of banks led by NBT, Miller said Sunday, and the amount has been reduced from $1.2 million a year ago. The board has hopes that other loans will be forgiven.
 
 Among other funding questions is whether a state grant will come through.
 
Foothills awaits word on an application for a $250,000 grant through the state’s Consolidated Funding Application program. The project would be to buy acoustic treatments, including a specially designed acoustic shell for the main stage, low-noise carpeting and stage curtains.
 
Miller said if the funding isn’t granted, Foothills will go ahead with the project in an incremental approach.