Columbian Theatre keeps doors open under city of Wamego’s ownership

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The Columbian Theatre in Wamego will continue to operate after the city of Wamego bought the theater, despite rumors that it would close down.

Jim Ginavan, Columbian Theatre executive director, said he went to city officials in August 2008 and proposed that the city take over the theatre to take care of the building’s utilities and maintenance.

Ginavan said he will continue to operate the theatre.

The theatre opened in 1893, but closed in 1950. After sitting dormant for more than 40 years, the Columbian Theatre was renovated and opened its doors to the public again in 1994.

“The Columbian as you see it today was how it has been since 1994, but it has always had a history of a theatre and community center,” he said.

Since re-opening in 1994, the theater has operated under a business model that caused debt to accumulate.

“We were working many years to take care of that and we found the original model did not eliminate the debt,” Ginavan said.

In an effort to move forward and keep the Columbian Theatre operating, Ginavan decided to ask the city for help. He said he had done research and looked at other theaters in Kansas and found many were receiving money from their city governments.

“Under the current business model we are in, it was inevitable it would close down,” Ginavan said. “With the proposal this way, we would continue to provide arts for the community.”

Ginavan said the Columbian Theatre will continue to provide the same ticket prices. However, William Ditto, Wamego mayor, said the city could work to reduce prices for performances and the cost for renting the facility.

Ditto said the theater’s management came to him for help because of the large deficit the theater was accumulating. Now that the city owns the building, they can provide funds to pay utilities and other financial assistance.

“I think the future looks bright for the Columbian Theatre,” Ditto said. “The city owning the facility will help to stable the financial support of the Columbian so the future will be solid.”

Jenni Woody, box officer manager, said at first she was worried at first, but now realizes the city is helping keep the theatre operating.

“I grew up in Branson, Mo., and was around fancy theaters and entertainers and when I came here, there were normal everyday people putting on plays,” Woody said. “My daughter has been in several shows and if it were gone, she wouldn’t have a chance to do shows. We love the theater.”

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