21 Aug 2014
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Odeum Receives $141,600 Grant From Champlin Foundations

Suddenly, the Main Street theater’s hope to reopen in March 2012 looks promising.

Things are looking up for the Odeum. First, fire code regulations were loosened. Now, the Main Street theater has received a $141,600 from the Champlin Foundations, board president Frank Prosnitz announced at Monday night’s Town Council meeting.

“Three months ago, somebody writing a check to the Odeum had no clue whether it was going into a black hole or whether it was going to a theater that would open,” Prosnitz said after the meeting. “That question has been answered.”

Prosnitz was appearing before the Council as prearranged, to provide an update on the Odeum’s continuing efforts to return to operational status and regain its nonprofit standing. The Odeum closed in 2007 because it did not have the funds to comply with stringent new fire code regulations. Those last year, creating an opportunity for the Odeum to reopen for significantly less cost than previously thought.

Meanwhile, however, the town had returned the theater to the tax rolls, since it was no longer operating as a nonprofit. The Council had given the Odeum’s board some time to reorganize and see if it could raise enough money to reopen the theater, with regular progress reports. Monday night’s appearance was one of the reports.

Because of the grant, the Council Monday night voted to extend the Odeum’s deadline for reopening to March 31, 2012.

“We expect to have the funds in hand in about a week or so,” Prosnitz told the Council about the grant money. “We certainly can be up and running some time in March.”

I’m very pleased,” said Council President Michael Isaacs afterwards. “It’s significant funding that puts them in the road to reopening.”

“Without it, I didn’t think they would be able to raise the money to reopen,” said Councilman Henry Boezi.

Prosnitz said that the grant signified more than just the money.

“It’s not only the money. It really creates something substantial. It’s really like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” he said. “So we have a lot of responsibility to live up to the expectations of the Champlin Foundations. We want them to feel very comfortable and proud of us. We want the Council to feel the same. The biggest thing is we want to bring this thing to the community as it was ... with the same kind of vibrancy and excitement it brought to East Greenwich.”

The first order of business will be to get the theater seats recovered. The board had already identified a company in Michigan to redo the seats. Now, with the award of the money, they will be able to proceed. Prosnitz said he expected to send out the seats in early January and that they should be returned by March.

Prosnitz will be reporting to the EG Fire Commissioners at their meeting Thursday evening. He said that the Fire Marshal still needs to approve both the seat upolstery fabric as well as the theater's seating plan and occupancy.

“We’re going to work with him, not against him,” said Prosnitz. “We want this theater open.”

As good as the news of the grant is, fellow board member Doug Truesdell - chair of the Main Street Association (formerly the Downtown Planning Initiative) - said that more money will be needed to finish everything needed to reopen.

“Seat sales are still important,” he said. “The grant money gets us through the fire code stuff, but there’s a number of cosmetic things we still need to focus on so seat sales are still very important.”

People can sponsor the reburbishment of a seat for $150 and get a small plaque on the seat that bears their name. For more information, contact contact Doug Truesdell (fonnie23@yahoo.com) or Frank Prosnitz (fpros@aol.com).

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