Garden Theater Celebrates Community Contributions

Garden Theater OutsideA small town movie theater is celebrating more than the 4th of July this weekend – they’ve just reached a huge financial milestone.

The Frankfort Garden Theater has been working on a $2 (M) million dollar capital campaign – a major fundraising effort that brought in some major contributions. And the finale is a $100,000 matching effort.

Rick Schmitt is the Chair of the nonprofit group, Friends of the Garden Theater. He says, “It’s just awe inspiring of the generosity of the community here to support the Garden Theater and make it great for the next 100 years.”

A year and a half ago – Frankfort’s Garden Theater launched the two million dollar capital campaign: an effort from the nonprofit Friends, to buy the building, renovate, and revitalize the downtown landmark. Schmitt says, “The financials of running a single-screen theater in a seasonal resort town just really don’t work. But you want the theater to be there and be vibrant.”

Frankfort Garden Theater Inside

Photo Courtesy of the Garden Theater

With the pandemic, operations – and fundraising – came to a halt. But the dollars started rolling in again back in the fall. “We were dreaming that we would get the money. Candidly we got it a little faster than we thought it would,” Schmitt says. The final push – the $100,000 matching challenge, which included $50,000 from Rotary Charities of Traverse City and $50,000 from private donors to solidify the basis for the match. This week brought word they reached that goal.

“The community has really taken an interest in making sure this is going to be a great thing for the future,” Schmitt says.  Reaching the goal comes just weeks after the theater hired a new executive director. Katie Jones says now is a good time to make the renovations – including a new roof and brand new restrooms.  “Given the last year during the pandemic, studios are not putting movies out the same way. So it’s kind of the perfect time to shut down and make this happen.”

Garden Theater ClockSchmitt says, “With the price of construction going up and going through the roof… we wanted to invest right away, and also be able to get things done before the film festival this fall. So the Garden Theater will be closed for the next several months and reopen in late September, early October.”

The theater has been able to bring in about $200,000 in local and state grants, but they have not been eligible for any of the federal funding. That’s because the nonprofit just purchased the theater officially in December. That’s another reason the local community support has been so vital. Jones says, “It doesn’t surprise me but it’s been really overwhelming to see the support from the community. It’s been a great foreshadowing of what the theater can be.”

Schmitt adds, “When we launched the campaign we had lots of living room conversations about what could be. And those conversations helped us guide in the construction.” And the plan is that it can be much more than a movie theater. Jones says, “It’s been great the past month to see what excites people. And I just want to have music, symphonies, choruses, theater. I just want to provide what the people want. It’s a vessel for them in the community.Garden Theater Inside

“More events brings more foot traffic to restaurants in town. The more that’s going on is just better for everyone in town,” Jones adds. For Schmitt, it’s been a part of the vision for a long time. “To be able to diversify with this campaign, to bring in more than movies. If the lights were on 150 days last year, they’ll be on 250 days this year. And it will only be 50% screen-driven. So there will just be a lot of activity in the Garden, and it’s exciting to think about.

“For the community to invest in the Garden Theater, it just echoes how supportive they are of having movies and live music and theatre, in downtown Frankfort and do it on a year-round basis,” Schmitt says.

From the Garden Theater: Originally built in 1924, the theater has been in need of extensive repair. The primary urgency is the need for a structurally safe and sound roof and foundation supports. In addition, ADA accessibility, stage upgrades, marquee repair, and more. The Friends have been committed to accomplishing these structural repairs as well as maximizing the potential that this multipurpose gathering space holds. The restoration process has commenced and is currently working towards a completion date of early fall. The decision to start was in order to leave plenty of time to be finished before the hugely popular Frankfort Film Festival scheduled for October 21st – 24th.

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