August 26, 2012

Theater deserves support

by Kelly Hawes

— Logansport’s leaders should take seriously the warnings of a local theater owner that a proposed new multiplex will put him out of business.

Council members voted Monday to give preliminary approval to changes in the city’s comprehensive plan and fringe area zoning map to allow development of the new theater south of High Street and west of Yorktown Road. They also named two new members to the Logansport Redevelopment Commission, a body that is poised to use tax dollars from the east-end tax increment financing district to pay off a bond for the project.

All of this comes in spite of a warning from Billy Alger, president of the board for the owners of the 72-year-old State Theater, that the business will shut down if the multiplex becomes a reality.

Alger contends the city’s incentive will net one full-time job. His business offers three, he said, and the new theater will bring four.

The city’s concern, though, should go beyond that trade-off in jobs.

The historic theater’s closing would leave a huge hole in Logansport’s central business district. Rather than helping him to make the old theater a jewel the city could be proud of, Alger says, the city’s incentive would be helping a competitor to put him out of business.

City leaders have said that is not their intent. They have said repeatedly that they are more than willing to work with Alger and that they have offered to provide him with incentives to help with his project.

Alger has said he’s not looking for incentives. He just wants an even playing field.

Some have suggested the city might be able to have its cake and eat it, too. Perhaps the city could lure the multiplex, they say, but help the old theater to succeed as well.

Maybe so.

The first thing city officials ought to do, though, is get in touch with Alger and see what he needs to stay in business.

A $3.5 million investment in a new theater is nothing to sneeze at. Still, there’s an old rule about economic development: It’s great to go out and land new businesses, but the first thing communities need to do is take care of the businesses they already have.

New jobs are great, but they lose their luster pretty quickly if they start to drive the old jobs away.

Alger offers a pretty simple math lesson when he talks about trading three full-time jobs for four. The city ought to pay attention.

Logansport for years has been trying to rebuild its downtown. It has made some progress in that effort with the work to create an arts and design district, and last week, news broke that the city had been talking to developers about building senior housing on what is now the farmers market lot at Fourth and Market streets.

Adding housing downtown would be a significant step forward in revitalizing the area and drawing businesses that will cater to those residents.

The revitalization effort, though, isn’t only about taking steps forward. It’s also about avoiding steps backward.

Many communities would look at Logansport’s historic downtown theater with a hint of jealousy. Some of them once had great old theaters like that and let them slip away.

Logansport needs to avoid making the same mistake.

The city still has its theater, and that theater has an owner who has already begun work toward reclaiming the building’s former glory. It would be a shame to see that work come to an end.

• Kelly Hawes is managing editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5155 or