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Town Council hears report on proposed renovations to Silco Theater

The Silver City Town Council at its May 14 meeting heard a report on recommended renovations for the Silco Theater.

Lucy Whitmarsh, Silver City MainStreet Project board president, said the board was fortunate to work with one of the New Mexico MainStreet Program associates, Elmo Baca, as well as an architect out of Texas, David Vesica, to come up with proposals for the Silco Theater.

Baca prepared to give a PowerPoint presentation, which showed several design options. "New Mexico MainStreet Program offers technical assistance to all its projects, including Silver City, which is the flagship program."


"We received the request in mid-March to provide technical and architectural assistance," Baca said. "David had to measure everything and take a good look at the Silco. This is a professional highlight for me to have the opportunity to work on the Silco Theater."

The scope of work included measuring every nook and cranny; identifying essential improvements needed for fire and safety codes, so it can open again as a theater; providing options for short-term and long-term uses; and creating accurate cost estimates through various phases.

"After we received the request, we assembled a design team of the architect and an interior designer," Baca said. "I'm in theater operations.

"The historic Silco provides a unique opportunity to develop a catalytic lifestyle project in the heart of the downtown district," Baca said. "It will help the businesses all around it. The Silco Theater has wonderful scale and elegant proportions. We're projecting 200 seats on the original red-brick floor and another 50 in the balcony. You can get a lot of value for a modest cost. David has national and international experience."

The first slide of the PowerPoint presentation showed the Silco Theater in the 1940s with its traditional marquee. The store on the north side of the entrance had a confectionary, which also served as the concession stand.

"The safety and fire protection items need to be done first," Vesica said. "The backstage has fire hazards, including precarious floors that were added and must be removed. The proscenium has holes. The firewall has to be redone. These are not optional."

He said two entries on either side were blocked up. "We need two means of exit, so we need another exterior exit. The upstairs loft apartment has holes in the back wall that need to be addressed. We must separate the residence from the theater occupancy."

Vesica said the temporary floor would be removed to reveal the sloped theater floor. "The question would be how to get from the floor to the stage, once it's a live-performance theater. The restrooms can remain, but for accessibility, we need another restroom added. The heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system are far undersized, so the theater needs a new HVAC system."

The suggested Phase 1 would be to remove the fire-hazard upper floors over the stage, replace the HVAC, fix the firewall, do electrical and plumbing work, and use the theater only as a cinema for showing movies, with digital film equipment and a new screen. Phase 2 would allow live productions, with accessibility to the stage, all new restrooms, new stage lights and sound equipment and an exterior marquee.

"In Phase 1, you could keep the restrooms, but you need another one," Vesica said. "The concession stand could be in the small north store front. The ticket window could be in that storefront, using one of the windows to the outside. A new lobby space would be created. Seating would be maximized. We could put equipment on the mezzanine. Converting to Phase 2 could be done with minimal effort. The stairs on the north side would be redone, and the upper level backstage removed. "

He said the curved surfaces of the theater help with sound reverberation. The marquee could be restored. "We have suggested an idea to have a glass front entry."

For Option 2, full bathroom build outs would be required, as well as redoing the stage and reconfiguring backstage.  The upstairs above the seating area could be a lounge and could be rented as a separate venue within the theater. A glass wall farther out front toward the sidewalk could allow an enlarged vestibule.

Councilor Cynthia Bettison asked about the options for a second exit.

"It could be either to the north or south, with an assisted rescue area, where people would be safe from fire and other people. "We only need one more for code," Vesica said. "Either a ramp or a stair would allow people to get out."

Vesica confirmed to Bettison that the upstairs lounge would have no handicapped accessibility.

Councilor Polly Cook asked about the rear door. Vesica explained that for cinema only, no access to the very back of the building would be required, but as a theater for live productions, access to the back would be required. "You would need a lift at that back door, but it cannot be used as a fire exit. Such an exit has to be from the seating area."

Bettison pointed out that a considerable amount of work was being proposed. "Our purchase contract says May 31. What is the request forthcoming from New Mexico MainStreet Program as an estimated time to completion?"

Town Manager Alex Brown confirmed the project would not meet the requirements of the current purchase agreement. "We will have to amend it and extend it. Currently MainStreet has enough revenue from the two stores to pay the debt service and to continue using the theater right now, while we gather resources for the remodel."

Whitmarsh requested a revision to the current agreement. Bettison asked if it would require expenditure of funds by the end of the fiscal year.

"If we close in June, it will give us the purchase funds," Brown said. "We will pull down the loan funds and reimburse the state with that. Once the funds come in, we will complete the purchase within 30 days without expending any town funds."

Whitmarsh confirmed the current owner is very interested in completing the sale.

Marshall said the renovations would cost at least $500,000. Whitmarsh said looking at Phase 1, for fixing the floor seating and using the mezzanine for the equipment, MainStreet is getting cost estimates from local contractors. "What you have includes the projection equipment."

"Where's the money coming from?" Marshall asked.

"We have a fundraising plan," Whitmarsh said. "We feel we can find support in the community. The stumbling block is the current private ownership. Once the theater is owned by the town, it opens up fundraising."

Marshall pointed out that it is a "huge chore to collect half a million dollars during construction."

Whitmarsh said another round of MainStreet capital outlay funding is available. "But even to apply, we have to show the town owns it."

Brown said MainStreet has $50,000 from the Freeport McMoran Community Investment Fund and the theater has an additional $70,000 in equity. The application deadline for MainStreet funding is June 6, "so it needs to be in town hands."

Baca said PNM is also a potential donor, but "it will have to be a creative community effort. We could look at KickStarter on the Internet. I hope we can close the gap to $150,000."

"My caution comes from starting the project and not finishing it," Marshall said. "It absolutely has to be finished. I am very cautious that we can find the funds."

Bettison asked if the MainStreet funding required a permanently hired theater manager. Whitmarsh said without one, there would be points taken off the application, but "we are in the process of hiring one."

Councilor José Ray asked: "If the town purchases it and funds don't come through, is the town liable?"

Brown replied that the town would be on the hook for the debt repayment. "The town will enter into an agreement with MainStreet, which has been bringing in about as much as the debt payment. We are not 100 percent in the clear."

Cook asked about vacancies in the stores, "as there is one."

"We anticipated a 10 percent vacancy rate," Whitmarsh said.

As the issue was a report, no action was taken.

The next article will cover the remainder of the action items on the agenda.

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