Hyart board launches digital conversion project

The Grand Old Lady of Lovell is sorely in need of a makeover, not the superficial kind, but rather the technological kind.

The Hyart Redevelopment Corp. this week launched a fundraising effort that must be successful if the venerable Hyart Theatre is to survive as a working movie theater showing current films.

Speaking at Monday’s Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce General Membership Meeting, Hyart board president Mike Steenbakkers explained that the world of motion pictures is rapidly proceeding to the point where the industry will no longer distribute movies on film. Rather, films will be distributed in a digital format, and in order to show movies in the future, the Hyart must receive a new digital projection system.

The Hyart digital conversion, which will also include a new sound system, is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $130,000 to $135,000 – and the money must be raised by this coming spring.

Steenbakkers said the Hyart board is looking at a funding model where one third of the cost will come from current Hyart funds, one third from the community and one third via a bank loan – about $45,000 each.

The Hyart has been a great success since it re-opened in November of 2004, Steenbakkers said, thanks to the volunteer efforts of many people. Through careful management, the board has in recent years been able to pay a manager and a projectionist and recently is paying weekend managers to oversee operations on the ground for each showing.

Over the years due to careful spending and with the decision a year ago to raise ticket prices by one dollar (from $4 to $5), the Hyart Redevelopment Corp. is able to come up with the initial $45,000, with a promise of a $45,000 loan in the future if the community can come up with the balance.

“We’ve been able to keep the doors open and put some money aside, but due to the age and size of the building, it takes a lot of money to get things fixed,” Steenbakkers said, noting that committee is looking at $65,000 for a new marquee and façade, $150,000 to re-cover seats and $35,000 to replace the carpet.

The Hyart board has known for some time that “at some point in the future” the digital conversion must take place, and that point in time has arrived, Steenbakkers said. Movies are getting harder and harder to get on reel to reel, he said, and sometimes the quality of the film is poor. The board is being told that there will be limited availability of movies on film by next summer and no availability by the end of 2013.

“It’s already getting difficult to get reel to reel,” he said. “We’re forced to make the change right now.”

The Hyart board is reaching out to the community for help, just like the original committee did in 2004 under the guidance of EmRee Pugmire, Steenbakkers noted.

“We’re hoping large employers realize the benefit the Hyart is to them for recruiting,” he said. “It’s a big part of entertainment, especially during the winter months. Every five dollars helps, but the plan is to go to some of the larger employers. Either we turn the lights out or we continue to operate. It has to happen over the next 90 days.”

Steenbakkers noted that the Hyart Redevelopment Corp. is a 501c3 corporation so that donations are tax deductible.

“It’s almost overwhelming,” he said. “We either come up with that or we close the doors. It takes a while to get the equipment ordered and installed.”

Upgrades over time

The Hyart board has put a lot of money into the old theater already. Shortly after the theater re-opened, the board installed a new projector and upgraded the sound, among other improvements, then made more improvements in recent years. A new $10,000 popcorn machine and a $12,000 digital projector for screen images were installed just over a year ago.

New boilers purchased more than a year ago cost the board $7,000 in matching funds as part of a $25,000 project mostly paid for with a grant.

A restroom renovation project was undertaken this summer thanks to a donation by Ken and Darece Grant and Midway Auto Sales, and the restrooms now have new partitions, mirrors, lighting, soap and towel dispensers and hot water on demand. There is a need for a handicapped-accessible restroom in the building, as well, Steenbakkers said.

Steenbakkers said he hopes citizens will see the value in the Hyart Theatre, a place for family entertainment and a place for kids to go safely on weekends. He said the board will take anything from individual to corporate donations.

“The industry is changing faster than we anticipated,” he said. “More and more movies are not coming out in anything other than digital. The equipment needs to be ordered by the spring, because by the beginning of the summer it will be hard to get anything on reel to reel. There have already been a couple coming out that we couldn’t get unless we were digital.”

The Hyart board was to meet Tuesday night to discuss a more detailed fundraising strategy.

By David Peck