North Big Horn County residents and businesses have expressed their love for the Hyart Theatre in a big way during the last six weeks in an effort to keep the historic theater operating in the digital age, so much so that Hyart Redevelopment Corp. board president Mike Steenbakkers said the board may be about to order the new digital equipment about two months earlier than projected.
Since Steenbakkers and the board launched the Go Digital or Go Dark fundraising project with an announcement at the Nov. 19 Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting, individuals and businesses have raised nearly $40,000 toward the initial goal of $45,000 that will allow the equipment to be ordered and the theater to stay open, though many other needs remain.
“We’re getting close,” Steenbakkers said. “We’ve had a lot of outstanding support from the community. Obviously, the Hyart is very important to a lot of people. At this point we have not met our goal, but because of the response we’ve had I am confident that we will be moving forward with the purchase of the equipment.”
The Go Digital or Go Dark project was launched in response to changes in the motion picture industry that will result in movies no longer being distributed on film. Movies will now be distributed in a digital format, requiring theaters to purchase expensive digital projection systems.
The Hyart’s digital conversion, which will also include a new sound system, is expected to cost around $135,000, and the Hyart Board approached the project with a funding model of $45,000 from Hyart savings, $45,000 from the community and $45,000 from a bank loan. But Steenbakkers noted that if the community can come up with more than $45,000 the theater’s debt will be smaller, saving money for future projects.
“While $45,000 is our goal, it is our minimum goal,” he said. “Our hope is to go well beyond $45,000, allowing us to take on a smaller amount of debt and keep the prices down at the Hyart.”
He said there are other needs at the theater such as a new marquee and façade, re-covered seats and new carpet.
For now, however, the money raised will allow the equipment to be ordered.
“We’re looking at a couple of months from when we order the equipment to installation,” Steenbakkers said. “At the time of ordering we need 50 percent down, with 50 percent due when it’s ready to ship.
“The equipment will be brand new. We’re looking at a little better model, knowing going forward that it will save money in the future (due to expected upgrades).”
April 1 was the Hyart board’s original deadline, but the community support has put the fundraising effort well ahead of pace.
“We’re 75 days ahead of the game due to the response from the community,” Steenbakkers said. “We’re a couple of months ahead of where we anticipated we’d be. It looks like because of the response we can order now, and as long as donations keep coming in we’ll be in good shape.
“We still need more donations. We hope people will keep donating. We don’t want to have to take on a major loan.”
Major donations include $5,000 each from Miller Fabrication, Lovell Drug, the Bank of Lovell and Bairco, $2,500 from Lundberg Consulting, $1,100 from the Irene Taggart family and $1,000 each from Wyo-Ben, Big Horn Federal, Jane Richardson and Dennis Hejduk, First Bank of Wyoming, Big Horn County Newspapers, Thales and Marilyn Haskell, Rex Myers, Dean and Judy Wolvington/Big Horn Dispatch, Loretta Bischoff and an anonymous donor.
“We are very appreciative of the generosity of the community and really think keeping the Hyart open is a great thing for our community, keeping the history alive,” Steenbakkers said. “This wouldn’t be possible without the donations we have received.”
The Hyart Redevelopment Corp. is a 501c3 corporation, and donations are tax deductible. There are three levels of recognition for donors including on-screen recognition in the theater, recognition plaques and recognition in advertising.
Donations may be taken to Steenbakkers at the Bank of Lovell or mailed to the Hyart at P.O. Box 333, Lovell, WY 82431. For more information call Steenbakkers at 548-6789 or 548-2213.
By David Peck