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December 19, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Group seeking public donations to keep Huntridge renovation plans alive

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Joe Schoenmann

The Huntridge marquee is shown Wednesday, May 15, 2013.

The fate of the historic Huntridge Theater will become clear in just a few short weeks.

And depending on support from locals, the 69-year-old theater will either be on its way toward resurrection or the wrecking ball.

Starting Friday, investors Michael Cornthwaite, Rehan Choudry and Joey Vanas, partners in Huntridge Revival LLC, will launch a crowdfunding program to raise $150,000 — 1 percent of the estimated $15 million needed to buy and renovate the building — over a period of about 45 days. The hope is that thousands of people who love the theater and want to see it reborn will donate amounts ranging from as little as $5.

Funders will get something for their investment, though details of the Indiegogo.com campaign won’t be released until 9 a.m. Friday. A press release, however, said “supporters can look forward to incentives (ranging) from merchandise to private entrances and assigned parking.”

Cornthwaite said the level of residential support will tell the story. If thousands — he’s hoping at least 7,500 — donate, it will be easier for him to convince those with deeper pockets that investing bigger chunks of money in the theater makes sense. The cost to purchase the building is $4 million; another $11 million in estimated renovations would come later.

“This isn’t about Joey or Rehan or myself,” Cornthwaite said Tuesday. “It’s about whether or not the city wants to bring back an iconic theater, and we’ll know whether they do or they don’t in a matter of weeks. To us, that’s the most important thing to know right now. And we’ll know if people want to support this in a very short period of time. It’s really out of our hands.”

But will people balk at the thought that they are giving money to an entity that isn’t a nonprofit, even if the end result is foreseen as an improvement to their community?

Huntridge Revival LLC wasn’t founded as a nonprofit, Cornthwaite said, because the process of obtaining that status could take a year or more.

“Creating a nonprofit limits what we can do, and it’s time-consuming,” he said, adding he believes if the theater isn’t saved soon its demise is imminent. “That stems from the fact that nothing has been done to this building in 10 years. Time is of the essence.”

The three investors, Cornthwaite added, have already put $60,000 of their own money into the project; that amount will have risen to $110,000 by the end of August.

Though that money is nonrefundable, Cornthwaite said if residents don’t support the project, they won’t go forward with it.

“We want the community engaged; we want them to tell us how they’d like to program the space,” he said. “We would rather not force something on the community that they don’t want because this isn’t about pride. If it’s going to be a failure, we won’t do it."

All that said, Cornthwaite said a meeting with Huntridge neighborhood leaders Sunday proved to him that neighbors really want the restoration to happen.

Melissa Clary, outgoing president of the Huntridge Neighborhood Association and founder of the Huntridge Foundation — created within the past year to maintain focus on the theater — said she found the transparency and accessibility of Cornthwaite and Vanas “unprecedented.”

She added she hoped people would "look past” the fact that Huntridge Revival LLC was not a nonprofit.

“These aren’t gaming millionaires or out-of-towners,” she said, adding that over the years, numerous potential investors have expressed interest in the Huntridge but no one was willing “to put their money down because of the mess it’s in.”

“But now we have people who will put money down, and I hope the community follows through and understands we can make this a community project,” she said.

“I hope there’s so many who will support it that the naysayers won’t matter.”

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