The Liberty Theatre will receive city money to help fund ongoing renovation at the iconic downtown landmark.
The Astoria City Council — in its role as the Astoria Development Commission, which oversees funds generated in the Astor-East Urban Renewal District — unanimously approved a $30,000 loan to the theater at a special meeting Thursday morning.
The commission met first in a closed session to discuss the loan before publicly making its decision. The city will also provide a $30,000 grant.
The approval comes right before a major fundraising event on Saturday, the theater’s “Once in a Blue Moon Gala,” with an auction led by State Sen. Betsy Johnson where all the proceeds will go to stage renovations.
The Liberty Theatre asked the city for grant funding earlier this year and city leaders decided to work with the organization to see what the city could provide.
On Thursday, councilors agreed that the Liberty Theatre’s request fit with the urban renewal district’s goals to improve the appearance of downtown and encourage redevelopment and rehabilitation of property in the downtown area the district encompasses. A term sheet provided by the city indicated that the Liberty Theatre is “fairly debt adverse” with only one existing loan noted, approximately $17,000.
While money from the city’s Astor West Urban Renewal District has often been funneled to programs like facade improvement, money from the Astor East Renewal District has usually gone to specific projects as they arise — the Garden of Surging Waves near City Hall, the purchase of the Liberty Theatre, loans to the theater to build out its second floor, and loans to the cancer center and the Fort George Brewery, among others.
The new loan from the city will help the theater in its $5 million multiyear capital campaign to modernize the building’s performance space, improve the theatergoing experience and make the theater more energy efficient.
“As tourists visit from other cities, they expect to see a level of theater we can’t provide,” Executive Director Jennifer Crockett told the City Council in August.
Currently, the theatre maintains local attendance numbers but hopes to grow the number of visitors it serves. With improvements, the theater hopes to host opera and full Broadway productions.
Craft3 will handle the loan for the city. The loan comes with a fixed 2 percent interest rate, which will include fees paid to Craft3, and a 7-year term.
The Astor East District funds tend to accumulate more slowly. The district includes properties owned by nonprofit organizations and government entities and so does not generate as much tax revenue.
The Astoria Development Commission — eyeing future development needs at Heritage Square where the Garden of Surging Waves as well as a caved-in lot are located — had purposefully held off from taking on any new projects to give the fund more time to regenerate.
As Astoria began planning out its budget earlier this year, the Liberty Theatre requested $45,000 of the $50,000 the city had budgeted for art and cultural grants. City leaders balked at the request since this money, broken into many smaller amounts, funds a number of small groups and arts-related efforts around the city.
But Mayor Arline LaMear hoped to find another way for the city to support the Liberty Theatre.
“I don’t want to take away from the funding for Heritage Square at all, but we don’t have anything planned for that this year as far as I know,” she said at a meeting in August. “I would like us to look at giving something at least to the Liberty Theatre to support their efforts.”
The other councilors agreed, saying the theater was “highly worthy” of receiving funding.