For almost a year, the Hardin County Playhouse board of directors have dreamed of a permanent home for the community theater.
With the possibility of donated land downtown, the organization is ready to begin fundraising.
Since being displaced from Plum Alley Theater in the State Theater complex, the playhouse is staging its performances in the Science Building auditorium at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.
A letter addressed to the playhouse from Elizabethtown Mayor Jeff Gregory said Elizabethtown city government is willing to donate property at 221 Quince Alley to the playhouse to construct a new performing arts center. The letter said once fundraising efforts are complete the property would be transfered to HCP.
“We now have the opportunity to finally have our very own place,” said Kerrie Lewis, HCP board vice president.
She said the mayor was supportive and enthusiastic when she spoke with him about the project.
“We’re excited to be able to provide a place for the Hardin County Playhouse to have a building after their fundraising is compete,” Gregory said, adding both he and the council are looking forward to having more arts opportunities downtown.
“It’s important to have that downtown,” he said.
He described the playhouse as a missing piece currently not represented downtown.
The new location will be built in what now is a grassy lot behind the Hardin County Justice Center and will face the rear of the justice center. It also will be tall enough to be seen from Main Street, Lewis said.
Most productions will happen when the justice center is closed, allowing significant parking for playhouse patrons, Gregory said.
As of now, plans are to build a 8,000-square-foot building with a large stage, seating for 183, restrooms, dressing rooms, a loading dock, storage, meeting rooms and office space.
In comparison, Plum Alley Theater had 115 seats and its current location at ECTC has 145 seats.
Lewis said the board wanted to keep the facility less than 200 seats so they didn’t have a larger expense associated with leasing the rights for plays in a bigger space.
“We also wanted to keep that intimate feel,” she said. “People like that close in feeling, you really feel like you are a part of it.”
The playhouse has preliminary drawings that likely will change as the project goes on.
“We’re going to make everything work to have the best possible community theater possible,” Lewis said.
Fundraising has begun and optimistically, they’d like to start construction in 12 months, but Lewis said the board knows the reality might be two years.
The building has an estimated cost of $1.5 to $2 million.
Lewis said many in the community have approached her about returning downtown. People didn’t realize the significant downtown footprint the playhouse had with 500 to 700 audience members often coming downtown for a show over the weekend.
Elizabethtown Heritage Council executive director Stacy Reynolds said the move has been in the works since early this year and he’s happy to see it taking shape.
“Personally and professionally, I am excited by this decision,” he said. “This shows the commitment by the current city council and mayor to the Hardin County Playhouse specifically but also to our local arts in general and also to our downtown.”
He said various organizations and residents have expressed a desire to see the arts more prevalent downtown.
“Now it’s time for our local businesses and citizens to see that same value and step up in the form of fundraising so that the Hardin County Playhouse can put together a plan to build what I believe will be an excellent addition to our downtown as well as for our community,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said he is pleased to know the playhouse eventually will be back downtown.
“The unfortunate circumstances that led to the end of their contract with the State Theater, while viewed as a necessary move by some, did leave a rather large hole in our community arts program and left the playhouse in a poor state,” he said.
The HCP board formed a building committee and will develop a fundraising strategy. Right now the board is accepting donations, continuing regular fundraisers such as the Ghost Walk and looking into grant possibilities.
“I believe in the mission and power of community theater and I believe Elizabethtown needs that,” Lewis said. “It will be good for our economy and soul and we need more arts in the community.”
To donate to the HCP building fund, call 270-351-0577, go to www.hardincountyplayhouse.com or mail a donation to PO Box 891, Elizabethtown.