Lights… camera… preparing for action

The Help, Entertain and Restore Organization is continuing to refurbish the Webster Theater behind covered windows.

“We did it to keep people guessing, give it a little mystery,” HERO Committee Member Jeff Pingel said.

Several projects have been completed since HERO asked for volunteers to help during their public cleaning day. A couple rows of seats have been removed to install more handicap seating. More speakers have been installed in the theater. The restrooms have been rebuilt.

When HERO began planning the process of refurbishing and reopening the Webster Theater, Pingel said they focused on the essentials. That included replacing an obsolete projector with a new digital projector, which Pingel said has been ordered.

However, thanks to many donors and grants, HERO is looking at a couple more projects. Of about 300 seats, 242 have been adopted by individuals, groups and businesses.

“When we said we’re going to adopt seats for $300 apiece, people said we were crazy,” Pingel said. “It just goes to show you that people really do want this back.”

In total, HERO has raised about $168,000 as of Thursday, according to Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce Director Deb Brown. Pingel said he’s grateful for organizations such as the Enhance Hamilton County Foundation who gave them a $10,000 grant to help with the purchase of digital projection equipment, the Hotel/Motel Tax Board who are recommending them to the City Council of Webster City for a $25,000 grant, and many donors who are helping reopen the theater. Pingel said a substantial donation from Bob Van Diest helped HERO get the project off the ground as their efforts began.

If HERO’s Hotel/Motel grant is approved, Pingel said the group has several projects they will be looking at. That includes restoring the building’s marquee. It used to be lit up with neon lights, Pingel said, but the lights were removed. Some of the lighting areas had tin casing placed around them. If the electrical components are still workable, Pingel said HERO hopes to add that lighting again.

“We’d like to get the 1939 retro look back,” Pingel said. “It’s a wish-list item. If we pull the tin back and it’s really bad, it might not happen, but it would be really great.”

While most of the cleaning in the theater has been completed, some work still remains. One of the larger cleaning efforts left is to steam clean the theater’s seats. Replacing the seats was found to be too costly, Pingel said, so hiring a business to clean them up is another project the Hotel/Motel grant would fund.

The goal of reopening the Webster Theater in September is still a possibility, Pingel said. With projects and funding going well, the final hurdle for HERO is to finish up the paperwork. However, Pingel said that could be a big hurdle. The group is licensing with 11 film studios to begin with. Pingel said several of them have simple, one-page contracts that will be completed easily. Others which he said are up to 35-pages can take up to 90 days to process. Pingel said those contracts have proven to be difficult to complete and could delay the opening of the theater. However, Pingel remains optimistic.

“We’re still shooting for an early-September opening,” Pingel said.