Local businesses, Chamber of Commerce and State of Nebraska Tourism Grant combine to upgrade theatre’s aesthetics and accessibility.
Local leaders who stopped by Gothenburg’s 111-year-old Sun Theatre over the weekend saw evidence of a years-long community investment and restoration project, just by walking in the front door. When it comes to first impressions, Theatre Director Roxanne Converse-Whiting says board members, business investors and donors set the bar high.
“Because the Sun Theatre has significantly impacted our community, the board wanted to maintain the theatre’s nostalgic ceiling features by creating a large, beautiful dome.”
Opening the lobby for free-flowing traffic and updating accessibility to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were only the first steps in completing the $525,000 project, which was funded by local and state investments. Contributions came from the Gothenburg Chamber of Commerce, two area banks, anonymous donors, and from a tourism-based, federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED). The CDBG Tourism Development Grant provides funding for historic restorations, scientific and educational interpretive sites, cultural and heritage recreational facilities and the removal of architectural barriers that restrict mobility and accessibility to sites and facilities. Communities applying for funding assistance are expected to draw 2,500 visits to each facility annually.
On Friday, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley joined board members, contractors and theatre donors to begin the weekend-long celebration of the project’s completion and the State of Nebraska’s $425,000 CDBG commitment to the project.
“State and local partnerships are vital in sustaining and growing businesses that have influenced early development within Nebraska’s communities,” Lt. Gov. Foley said. “This project’s renovations highlight the Sun Theatre’s long history in Gothenburg, as well as local leaders’ dedication to enhancing the city’s quality of life. The State of Nebraska appreciated the opportunity to work with Gothenburg leaders to promote their unique tourism attraction, and we are proud of their extensive commitment to this project.”
The theatre board’s capital campaign began shortly after Converse-Whiting was hired in 2017, when the board began hosting a number of fundraisers in the community. Two “Dancing with the Stars” events raised nearly $35,000 in 2018 and 2019. In addition, $20,000 pledges from Gothenburg’s First State Bank and Flatwater Bank, a $10,000 grant from the Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee and an anonymous $20,000 donation helped the board meet its fundraising goals.
The project implemented ADA accessibility in the theatre’s restrooms and auditorium, which included additional theatre seating to accommodate visitors in wheelchairs and their family members. New platforms on the east and west sides of the auditorium were installed to assist those with mobility challenges. While fundraising for the project was completed in 2019, project renovations began in May of 2020 and were completed this month.
“The Gothenburg Community Playhouse/Sun Theatre Board of Directors are extremely excited to welcome members of our community, and those in the surrounding area, to the unveiling of our renovation project,” Board President Claudine Kennicutt said. “As the current President of the playhouse/theatre, I have once again been reminded of the generosity, perseverance and proactive approach that the patrons of our community take when they have their hearts and minds set on a project. We, as a board, feel that we have been able to bring new life into the theatre, while maintaining the sense of tradition that is very important to Gothenburg. We are also very fortunate to have Executive Director Converse-Whiting leading the charge. Her passion, creativity, patience and attention to detail have been a true gift, and we would like to thank her for her many additional hours spent guiding our efforts.”
Converse-Whiting commended collective efforts to preserve the historical significance of the theatre, which was built in 1909 and used as an opera house until 1926.
“My family has lived in the Gothenburg community for 24 years, and of course I love the theatre and my kids grew up attending this theatre. I appreciate the opportunity to come in and facilitate the fundraising efforts, and partner with supporters to raise all of our funds at no cost to the City, because having a theatre is pivotal in our small town. I want to show our community what they’ve done.”
For more information on DED’s CDBG Tourism Development Grant, contact CDBG Program Manager Steve Charleston at 402-471-3757 or firstname.lastname@example.org.