Reaching out to reopen

Volunteers both young and old are working to reopen the Webster Theater.

Deb Brown, Webster City Chamber of Commerce Director, and Jeff Pingel, of Black Hills Energy, spoke Wednesday morning to an entrepreneurship class at Webster City High School. They asked for assistance with their as of yet unnamed nonprofit group that is looking to get the Theater going again. Pingel, along with several other board members, have started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that has goals of purchasing the theater, completing renovations, hiring staff and showing movies again in Webster City.

Pingel asked the students for help with several key parts of the nonprofit and the project. He asked students to draft mission statements, come up with a creative name for the nonprofit group and for any other help they would be willing to give.

“We want the youth of the community to come in and help save our downtown,” Pingel said. “It has a lot of empty storefronts and a theater is kind of a cornerstone business for a downtown. You want people to have reasons to come down there.”

Brown, who said she is assisting with the project as a volunteer because of the importance of such an anchor business, first asked students to draft names for the nonprofit. Pingel said the nonprofit does not have to solely focus on the movie theater. Possible names could be put up for a vote in the class, the high school or the town at large. That decision will rest with the 16 students of the entrepreneurship class.

The group is also looking for a student to be on the board for the nonprofit, a requirement for them to have 501(c)(3) status with the IRS. Pingel said involvement with this nonprofit would be a great opportunity for students who want to open their own business one day.

“We want to give you a real world experience in building a business plan and this is as good of an opportunity as you’re going to get,” Pingel said.

Even with the help of student volunteers, much work remains before the theater can be reopened. Brown said the group is planning to raise funds to get the theater going again. The group, who has been working together since April, faces a cost of $40,000 to purchase the theater itself. Additionally, the cost of a new digital projector is about $55,000, a sound system would cost $5,000, upgrading to 3D equipment would cost $7,000 for the screen and more for the projector upgrade. The building itself also needs renovation, specifically with a leaky roof and a deteriorating bathroom floor.

With all that and startup capital, Pingel said the group is looking at $200,000 to get the theater going again. The steep price, Pingel said, is not insurmountable. He cited other communities that have reopened local movie theaters with the help of the community and students.

“There are a lot of ways to approach a small business. You guys are young and imaginative and you can put all your ideas together and make this happen. I want you guys to be proud of Webster City and be part of Webster City,” Pingel said.

Brown said the nonprofit is planning to hold a community-wide meeting in November to share their progress on reopening the Webster Theater.