Almost 10 years in the making, there’s light at the end of the tunnel for a big project in the small town of Humboldt, Nebraska.
“I’m hoping we’ve gained enough momentum to potentially finish in two years,” said Dennis Crispin, Chairman of the Humboldt Auditorium Board, which is responsible for overseeing renovations to the historic building. “As people see what we’re doing, we’re receiving more and more donations.”
Built in 1941 as a product of the Works Progress Administration and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the auditorium was a community focal point for nearly three generations before its doors closed in the 2000s — primarily a result of the building’s noncompliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.
“In its heyday it was home to almost any event that needed a lot of floor space,” Crispin said. “Dances, wedding receptions, family gatherings. A lot of the older crowd remembers Roller Skating Night. We actually found the antique wooden-wheel skates when we started renovating.”
Now, residents of this farming town of around 900 are in the process of restoring the historic building to its former glory and beyond — turning an echo of the past into an investment in Humboldt’s future.
“A lot of small towns are struggling to survive,” Crispin said. “We are remodeling the auditorium into what we envision will be one of the finest event venues in this part of the world. There are 35,000 people living within a 50-mile radius of Humboldt, and this facility is going to help draw them to our community.”
Concerts. Plays. Conferences. Catered events. The sky will be the limit for the revamped facility, which will feature amenities you’d only expect to find in a much larger city. Well-equipped meeting rooms, a full-service commercial kitchen, a 100-seat “Recital Hall” for intimate gatherings, modern acoustics and lighting, fine furnishings and more will complement a decked-out, 400-guest main hall.
“We knew that if we were going to do this we were going to do it right,” Crispin said. “We’re just over halfway finished and we’ve already had big companies call and ask when the venue will be available for corporate meetings. There is an endless list of possibilities.”
It all began in 2010, when a group of concerned citizens banded together to form the Friends of the Humboldt Auditorium (FOHA), determined to save the historic building from further neglect. The challenge, of course, was in locating funding.
“We initially anticipated a $1 million or so renovation,” Crispin said. “Today we’re looking at about $2 million with furnishings and equipment. But when you think about it, the fact that this building was constructed for $80,000 and would probably cost around $6 million to build today, and all we have to do is finish it, we feel like we’re getting a heck of a bargain.”
Within a few short years, FOHA’s tireless fundraising efforts had garnered hundreds of private donations, ranging anywhere from $5 or $10 to thousands of dollars apiece. In 2015 the project got its biggest single boost, when Humboldt received $375,000 in grant funding under Nebraska’s Civic and Community Center Financing Fund (CCCFF).
“Most of the work we have accomplished today simply would not have been possible without the support we received from CCCFF,” Crispin said.
Administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED), the CCCFF program provides matching grants to help communities plan and develop civic, community and recreation centers. In 2019 alone, DED awarded over $5.7 million in CCCFF grants statewide to support projects ranging from city park improvements to historic library preservation efforts.
“Integral to a strong community are places to gather, celebrate and work together,” said Jenny B. Mason, DED Community Development Coordinator. “Grant programs like CCCFF are intended to help communities enhance their vitality and make meaningful investments in their future.”
With the funds raised to date, Crispin says the first phase of the auditorium’s renovations are nearly complete. These have included upgrades for ADA compliance and the repair/replacement of major systems like plumbing, electrical and heating and air, among other improvements.
“Now we’re getting ready for phase two. That will involve installing an elevator, doing the kitchen, flooring and furnishings, a lot of the aesthetic elements. The CCCFF grant and generous donors have gotten us this far. Now it’s time to find funding for the second heavy lift.”
For the retired Crispin, managing the ongoing renovation has turned out to be almost a full-time job. But he says his passion for the project and what it means for Humboldt makes it all worthwhile.
“It’s all about economic development for the community and the southeast corner of the state,” he said. “When people come to town for a concert, wedding, business meeting or community event, they’re going to buy a tank of gas and a loaf of bread. And they’re going to develop a little bit of habit toward coming to Humboldt instead of a larger community. So the whole idea is about bolstering the economy of our community and our region.”
To learn more and for project updates, check out the Friends of the Humboldt Auditorium Facebook page. For more information about the CCCFF grant program, visit http://opportunity.nebraska.gov/cccff or contact Jenny B. Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The FOHA requested the following postscript:
“All of us that are involved with the auditorium renovation effort would like to express our gratitude to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development for having the faith in our project to award the grant. We would especially like to thank Jenny Mason for her dedication and professionalism in support of The Humboldt Auditorium.”