City council eyes theater, partnership

VERGENNES — In considering their 2013-2014 municipal budget on Tuesday, the Vergennes city council gave special attention to two organizations — the Vergennes Partnership and the Vergennes Opera House.
Aldermen included $7,500 for the Vergennes Partnership despite a last-minute plea from partnership executive director Tara Brooks for $15,000 of support, which she said would allow the organization to retain at least a 20-hour position.
Brooks noted that the city has “invested $26,550 in the Vergennes Partnership” in the past five years, while in the same time frame received $120,000 in transportation grants and $294,426 in tax credits, a nine-to-one ratio.
Officials agreed that the partnership is a necessary organization for Vergennes to maintain the Designated Downtown status it needs to obtain those grants, but said they were not comfortable supplying more than half its budget.
“It is something we need … (But) It’s always been a balancing act,” Mayor Bill Benton said.
He urged the partnership to pursue aggressive fundraising and continue to re-establish itself, and then return to the council.
“They can come back in six months,” he said. “If they’ve got a great record, there’s the Water Tower Fund as a source.”
The council also heard from new Friends of the Vergennes Opera House board president Gerianne Smart that that organization would withdraw its request for direct funding and instead seek more indirect support. Smart asked aldermen, and they agreed in their new budget, to pay for more fuel oil, and also to consider funding a greater share of future improvements to the building the theater and city offices share.
Smart said in the meantime her focus would be reviving the theater organization and make it more sustainable. She said the FOVH board would soon expand from five to 11 people, and that the board would work to create a new strategic plan to move the theater into the future.
“We have a new restoration we have to do … (and) great people who have stepped forward,” Smart told the council.
That plan will take into account how to raise money, to create a vision for what the opera house’s role should be in the community, to establish educational outreach, and to put a long-term management plan in place, Smart said.
A MiddCore volunteer will also approach other opera houses around the state to learn about their roles in their hometowns, and conduct a survey locally, Smart said. 

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