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How to save the Humota

Humboldt residents search for a way to keep the local movie house from closing

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Jeff Pingel addresses a packed Humboldt City Council chambers Thursday night as at least 33 people gathered to discuss how to save the Humota Theater in town from closing on Sept. 1.

HUMBOLDT — The Humota Theatre in downtown Humboldt, in business since 1928, will show its last film Sept. 1 this year unless the people of the town find a way to keep it open.

With the amount of enthusiasm and support shown by the citizens at a meeting Thursday night, there’s a good chance the theater will be saved.

More than 30 people packed the city council chambers to meet with Travis Goedken, Humboldt City administrator, and Jeff Pingel, who helped create the nonprofit HERO that reopened the Webster City theater.

They talked about how to keep the movies rolling.

“I have talked to oodles of people that are passionate to keep this theater going,” said Paul Origer, who attended the meeting. “I know a lot of people wanted to be here but couldn’t. … I guarantee there will be other people that are going to come.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Humboldt City Manager Travis Goedkin and Humota co-manager Sarah Vanord speak with a supporter about keeping the theater running. A meeting was held Thursday night to gauge community interest in possibly creating a nonprofit organization to keep it open in Humboldt.

Thursday was the first meeting of many, Goedken said.

“I can assure you we will not walk out of this room tonight with a plan,” Goedken said. “There is a lot we have to talk about. We need to look at a couple different figures, and take a look at a couple different options.”

R.L. Fridley Inc. owns the theater, and has announced its intention to close, but has offered to donate the building for free to the city or a community group.

Keeping the theater open will take a lot of people’s participation. Goedken asked attendees to leave their contact information if they would be willing to serve on committees, or help in any other way.

One of the first steps for the group will be to form a 501(c)3 nonprofit, so it can take donations, Pingel said. This takes some time and money to set up, but is pretty straightforward after that.

“Once it’s rolling it will take care of itself,” said Andy Milam, who manages a nonprofit himself as marketing and PR coordinator for the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend. “I think that model is probably the way to go.”

Before it’s set up, it’s possible another nonprofit could start taking donations for the theater and act as a pass-through.

The Friends of the Park organization has served such a role in the past, Goedken said, and he will check today to see if it would support the theater’s fundraising.

“We have a ton of people who already want to fundraise, but we can’t yet because we’re still Fridley-owned,” said theater Co-manager Sarah Vanord.

The funds will be important. The HVAC system needs to be replaced, Goedken said, and there are issues with the roof. The seats are also in need of replacement.

“I view this as something we as a community can achieve. I don’t have that number locked in yet,” Goedken said. “Knowing the immediate short-term repairs that are needed, I’d say $50,000 to $60,000 come Sept. 1. If we’re close to that, I think we can pull this off.”

Fridley also has said it’s willing to work with them, Goedken said. It won’t shut the doors the day of the deadline as long as there is a plan in place, and the community has taken the needed actions to keep the theater operating.

The building will be donated, but the city is still negotiating on the cost of the equipment inside, he said.

“The equipment is very expensive. We are negotiating; it is a heavily discounted rate, I can tell you that,” he said. “We have the ability to show 3D movies; it is full digital projection. They just reinvested in the equipment.”

“Our projector is only four years old, and it was $500,000 just for the projector,” Vanord said.

Goedken and Pingel said there are multiple models of running a community movie theater, from having it be mostly volunteers to having the nonprofit group hire all the workers, like Webster City does.

Goedken said he’ll also look into what it would take for the city to re-sell the property to a private investor.

“We learned a lot of information driving around Iowa,” Pingel said. “We can share what we learned and save you the trip.”

Jessica Kunz thought the nonprofit idea would work well for her town.

“I’m going to want to be on the committee, because my kids love to go to the movies,” Kunz said. “We go to the movies a lot. We already lost the roller skating rink. We need this in our town.”

Origer agreed.

“It’s just somewhere in the community you can go and do something as a family,” he said. “It’s another thing in the community you hate to lose. You slowly start losing your activities, then people start going out of town.

“Our kids need a place to go. My daughter to day went to the free movie. It’s better than sitting at home on an iPad.”