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Published: Saturday, 2/21/2009

Debt-ridden Ohio Theatre kicks off drive to raise $500,000 by year-end

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Nelson Nelson
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

North Toledo's historic Ohio Theatre turns 88 years old next week and its leaders are asking for cash.

Saddled with long-standing debts and nearly $100,000 in annual operating expenses, the theater on Lagrange Street launched a campaign yesterday to raise $500,000 by year's end.

To reach that goal, the nonprofit Ohio Theatre Inc. is asking members of the public to buy $50 symbolic "bricks." The organization needs to sell 10,000 of them, and has pledged that each contributor will have his or her name inscribed on a plaque to hang inside the 1921 theater.

"This is the last standing and operating neighborhood theater house in Toledo," theater President Michael Nelson said during a news conference. "A lot of people don't realize that we are still here."

Mr. Nelson said the theater's yearly revenues total about $15,000, far below expenses. He said that when the nonprofit bought the theater in 2004 from the Toledo Catholic Diocese, it inherited about $70,000 in debt that dates to the 1980s.

The organization has whittled the debt to about $50,000, Mr. Nelson said.

In addition to community events and children's workshops, the theater hosts second-run movies for $3 on the first and third weekends of the month.

It also presents The Rocky Horror Picture Show no fewer than three times a year.

Joining Mr. Nelson in his plea yesterday were Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, and Toledo City Councilman Lindsay Webb, who represents the theater's district.

"The neighborhood theaters are irreplaceable," Mayor Finkbeiner said. "There is nothing like the environment and the atmosphere that the Ohio Theatre offers."

Ms. Webb extolled the building's gorgeous interior and said it is well worth the cost of preservation. She also shared personal memories, telling the audience of reporters and theater supporters that, in junior high school during a Catholic schools dance, "I had my first kiss here."

Mr. Nelson said that the fund drive would raise just a fraction of the roughly $6.5 million that will be needed for a theater renovation. Nevertheless, the $500,000 sought this year could open up some state and federal restoration grants that require matching funds.

Mayor Finkbeiner said the theater also might be eligible for money in the recently signed federal stimulus package.

"The theater has been in existence for 88 years, and hopefully she'll be here for another 88 years when we're dead and gone," Mr. Nelson said.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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