Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley visited Gothenburg today for the inaugural celebration of the “Revitalize The Sun” theater project.
Made possible by local fundraising and a $425,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED), the project — sponsored in partnership between The Sun Theatre and the City of Gothenburg — will see a historic community centerpiece and entertainment hub updated to become more accessible to patrons of all ages and abilities.
“This project is a terrific example of the positive impacts happening across Nebraska with support from the Community Development Block Grant program and the Department of Economic Development,” said Lt. Gov. Foley. “It’s also a testament to the people and leadership of Gothenburg, who have shown a commitment to growing and improving the community on behalf of all its citizens.”
The Sun Theatre has been serving up opera, silent movies, the performing-arts, modern-day cinema and more for residents of Gothenburg and nearby rural communities for over a century. Today, the nonprofit, volunteer-run theater remains a focal point for the community of just over 3,500, as well as a draw for out-of-town visitors.
“A lot of young professionals and families are moving to town,” said City Clerk Brandi Kloepping. “Because of amenities like The Sun Theatre, they don’t have to travel to larger cities to experience the arts and entertainment. This allows Gothenburg to be a community that offers not only good jobs and schools, but a great quality of life.”
The Sun has been no stranger to renovations since its construction in 1909. But, while up to code, it currently lacks features that would make it more comfortable and accessible to persons of various needs and abilities. The Revitalize the Sun project will change that in a major way: ADA accessible restrooms; wheelchair seating and a level surface in the auditorium; accessible workspace in the concessions area; and other enhancements will open The Sun to a wider and more diverse audience than ever.
“Our goal is to create a more accommodating environment for all patrons and ensure that the theater is a place anyone can enjoy,” said Sun Theatre Executive Director Roxanne Converse-Whiting, who is leading the project. “We show classic movies for the residents of our assisted living facility, for example, and getting visitors with age and mobility concerns safely in and out can be a challenge. This will help remediate that and other issues, resulting in a more enjoyable experience for everyone.”
Other enhancements will make the theater more energy efficient, she added, supporting volunteers’ mission to keep ticket prices low and remain affordable for visitors of all income levels.
“We exist to serve the entire community, which includes a lot of young families and the elderly on fixed incomes,” she said. “Being volunteer-run allows us to maintain reasonable prices, which is a big part of our mission. This project will help us more easily sustain that over the long term.”
Though fundraising for the renovations presented a challenge, she says, Gothenburg residents banded together to raise around $100,000 in financial support. A community “Dancing with the Stars” competition alone generated over $25,000, with performances selling out in as little as nine minutes.
Yet Converse-Whiting says the project may not have gotten off the ground without support from the CDBG program.
“The community had just come off of a huge fundraising effort to build a YMCA, and citizens can only do so much. Without external support, I’m not sure it would have been feasible at that time to raise the level of funds we needed to begin these renovations.”
A program of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and administered by DED on behalf of Nebraska, CDBG supports community development projects that raise the quality of life, promote economic prosperity and benefit low- to moderate-income individuals and families in Nebraska communities.
“The support received from DED and the CDBG program was a difference-maker for this project,” Kloepping said. “In the long run, it’ll also be a difference-maker for the citizens of Gothenburg, and will help us continue to build a community that people love to call home.”