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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Historic Preservation & Archaeology > Learn About Topics > Historic Theaters > Historic Theater Case Studies > Historic Theater Case Study - Indiana Theatre Historic Theater Case Study - Indiana Theatre

Indiana Theatre
Indiana Theatre
Bloomington, IN

By Karine Huys
Graduate Student
IUPUI Department of History

Bloomington, Indiana is located in the southern part of Central Indiana. The town has a population of roughly 89,000 and Monroe County has a total population of roughly 100,000. About a third of this population is transitory, as they are associated with Indiana University, a large public university located in Bloomington. The University has a major impact on Bloomington and the surrounding area in terms of economy, political climate, arts and entertainment. Downtown Bloomington, where the Indiana Theatre is located, is within walking distance of the campus. The downtown area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the historic courthouse district.

The Indiana Theatre opened on December 11, 1922 to a standing room only crowd of 1300 people. Located at 114 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, Indiana, the theatre opened with a silent film. Henry Vonderschmidt would own and operate the theatre, along with several other theatres around Indiana until his death in 1955. After Vonderschmidt’s death, his wife and then other family members would continue to operate the theatre until 1976 when the building was sold to the national syndicate Kerasotes Theatres. Kerasotes would operate the theatre until 1995.

In 1995 Kerasotes Theatres, then manager and owner of the Indiana Theatre closed the doors. As time passed, and the theatre was not reopened, citizens in the town of Bloomington began to organize a response to Kerasotes inactivity. They were hoping to have the Theatre opened as a discount movie house. One action of note during this time was a grant which was obtained from Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana to conduct a renovation feasibility study of the building. It was hoped that this study might persuade Kerasotes to take action within the building.

The Buskirk-Chumley Theatre is an example of Spanish Mission Revival architecture. The Arts and Crafts Movement was behind this architecture style. The movement enjoyed its greatest popularity between 1890 and 1915, though numerous modern residential, commercial, and institutional structures display this style. It is characterized by a combination of detail from several eras of Spanish and Mexican architecture. The style is marked by the prodigious use of smooth plaster wall and chimney finishes, low-pitched clay tile, shed, or flat roofs, and terra cotta or cast concrete ornaments.

In the end, however, the theatre was not reopened by Kerasotes, but instead was donated to the Bloomington Area Arts Council (BAAC). The BAAC took control of the building late in 1995, with a deed restriction requiring no movies would be shown in the facility. The Indiana would be the largest arts venue in the downtown area, seating 600-650 people. The next closest venue in size was the BAAC’s other property, the Waldron Arts Center, which was built to seat roughly 250 people. During this time the Theatre would be renamed the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre, after large donors who contributed to the renovation project. However, the original Indiana marquee does remain on the outside of the building.

In the end, however, the theatre was not reopened by Kerasotes, but instead was donated to the Bloomington Area Arts Council (BAAC). The BAAC took control of the building late in 1995, with a deed restriction requiring no movies would be shown in the facility. The Indiana would be the largest arts venue in the downtown area, seating 600-650 people. The next closest venue in size was the BAAC’s other property, the Waldron Arts Center, which was built to seat roughly 250 people. During this time the Theatre would be renamed the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre, after large donors who contributed to the renovation project. However, the original Indiana marquee does remain on the outside of the building.

The ensuing renovation project would end up costing nearly $3.2 million and would nearly cost the BAAC their existence, a point that will be discussed later. During these early years of BAAC ownership, the theatre received a Hometown Indiana Grant from the State of Indiana, administered by the Department of Natural Resources to support parks, recreation areas and historic sites. They also received a grant administered by the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County on behalf of Lilly Endowment Inc. The matching grant was half funded by a private donor and then matched by Lilly Endowment Inc. During the renovation the BAAC also partnered with Steak’n’Shake Inc., which served as co-owners of the theatre. Steak’n’Shake was given tax benefits for investing in the renovation of the historic landmark. A second grant was also received during this time from the State’s “Build Indiana” fund.

In 2000, the mayor’s office in Bloomington put together a commission to study and make recommendations for the ailing BAAC. Debt associated with the renovation and operation of the theatre was threatening the existence of the BAAC. The commission recommended that the theatre be separated from the BAAC as a means to save the arts organization. They also recommended financial assistance from the city of Bloomington in order to keep the theatre operational and to pay off part of the remaining debt from the renovation.

Other entities had started taking an interest in the well-being of the theatre also. The Lotus Education and Arts Foundation was integral in moving forward the separation of the theatre from the BAAC. They eventually spun off BCT Management, the nonprofit entity that manages the theatre today. The Monroe County Convention and Visitors Bureau was looking to open an office in the adjacent store front, which would also be used as a box office for the theatre. The other adjacent store front was getting ready to open as a deli/coffee shop which would be used as concessions for the theatre.

By 2001 a temporary arrangement had been made for BCT Management to operate the day-to-day workings of the theatre with partial financial support from the city of Bloomington. In 2004, the terms of Steak’n’Shake's ownership of the theatre had expired and the corporation turned over its share of the theatre to the city of Bloomington.

The City was partially using money from the downtown Tax Increment Finance district (aka TIF) to fund the money for the Theatre. The City of Moline’s economic development website succinctly describes this process:

When the district is identified, a base line for property and sales taxes already being collected is established. During the life of the TIF, all taxing bodies continue to collect the amount of tax revenue they were collecting at the time the TIF District was identified. However, the additional property and sales tax that is collected because of increasing the value of the property in the district and the additional sales generated by the redevelopment projects is collected by the City. The City can then spend that additional money on projects that support redevelopment efforts within the district.

Because the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre is in the downtown district of Bloomington, which had been established as a TIF, the money could be spent on that project.

Kerasotes was approached in 2002 with the intent to negotiate a change in the original deed restriction on the building. Bookings and use of the space in the theatre had been increasing since BCT took over management, but there was still a desire to show films in the building as part of the plan to maximize use of the space and revenue. Ultimately, Kerasotes did agree to a less limiting restriction, which allows showing of anything but first run movies. This allows the Buskirk-Chumley to have classic movie nights and host international and independent film festivals as part of their programming.

At the beginning of 2006, the City of Blooming took complete control of the theatre and entered into an agreement with BCT Management to continue running the day-to-day operations. In this partnership, the City is responsible for infrastructure and BCT handles everything else. The theatre is part of the Parks and Recreation department. The current agreement is for three years and can be renewed twice.

While this partnership has been applauded by many in the arts community, no agreement is without its possible pitfalls. In the first three years of this agreement, the City agreed to cover the net loss of the theatre. There were no cash reserves during this time, but there was minimal financial risk for BCT Management because the City was covering their loss; however, BCT Management was not allowed to have a cash reserve.

In the agreement that began in January 2006 the theatre is now able to build a cash reserve. Because BCT Management is contracting with the City to run the theatre the staff must do all their own bookkeeping and payroll and must apply for their own insurance plan. As a very small organization gaining affordable insurance plans can be difficult, the theatre may consider trying to negotiate a plan with the City to include the employees in the City’s insurance plan. Also, because the relationship with the City was temporary until January 2006 the management felt constrained in its long range planning. Advance planning was limited in scope and major funders were hesitant to invest in a temporary situation.

Not everyone in Bloomington has been thrilled with this private/public partnership. The Monroe County Taxpayers Association disagrees with the idea of supporting the Buskirk-Chumley with tax money. The association argued that subsidies given to the Theatre “converts the leisure interests of an elite few into a false public good”. The Mayor of Bloomington encouraged people to look at the Theatre in the context of a publicly supported softball park. “It’s another investment into amenities that have become a part of Bloomington’s community character. Those are investments that are there to help citizens of all ages have a full life.” The Association is also opposed to the City’s support of the softball fields, arguing that there is a danger in confusing personal leisure interests with true public goods. (This is a summary of the article “Taxpayers group objects to city’s partnership with theater” printed in the Herald-Times on 3/2/2001).

While this partnership has been applauded by many in the arts community, no agreement is without its possible pitfalls. In the first three years of this agreement, the City agreed to cover the net loss of the theatre. There were no cash reserves during this time, but there was minimal financial risk for BCT Management because the City was covering their loss; however, BCT Management was not allowed to have a cash reserve.

In the agreement that began in January 2006 the theatre is now able to build a cash reserve. Because BCT Management is contracting with the City to run the theatre the staff must do all their own bookkeeping and payroll and must apply for their own insurance plan. As a very small organization gaining affordable insurance plans can be difficult, the theatre may consider trying to negotiate a plan with the City to include the employees in the City’s insurance plan. Also, because the relationship with the City was temporary until January 2006 the management felt constrained in its long range planning. Advance planning was limited in scope and major funders were hesitant to invest in a temporary situation.

Currently the theatre generates operating money through four main areas: rental income, appropriations from the city, performance revenue and donations. As with most government appropriation the theatre has seen a decline in the amount of City support over the past several years. This decline in City support has been offset by increases in donations to the theatre. The largest individual donation that the theatre receives is $1000. According to the Executive Director, the long range financial goal is for corporate support and rental revenue to cover operations, so that programs revenue and private donations can be profit.

Currently about half the activity in the theatre is rental activity and half is theatre programming. Originally the intent had been for all programming to be rental with no internally driven programs. Management quickly found out that this would not meet their financial goals, and decided to start hosting internally driven programming. The majority of the internally driven programming is family oriented. The Parks and Recreations Department also conducts senior citizen activities at the Theatre during the summer.

Indiana TheaterWhen looking at rental and programming options, the Management first and foremost considers the need to generate activity within the theatre, because activity will keep the theatre going. They are also working hard to gain the trust of the local arts community and try to make the process as professional and easy as possible. The Management also understands that successful activity is even more important than just generating activity. They work extensively with the outside renters to make sure the groups are working on a timely production schedule, including deadlines in their contracts for production milestones and marketing assistance. The largest renter is the neighboring Methodist Church, which uses the theatre for a contemporary service every week. Indiana University also uses the theatre for a variety of presentations throughout each academic year.

Currently there are three full time staff members at the theatre- the Executive Director, Marketing Director and Technical Director. In this case the Technical Director is a union hand, as the theatre is a union house. There is also a part time janitorial and maintenance person. The theatre utilizes work-study students from Indiana University. In any semester there are generally ten students working in the theatre, some graduate level and some undergraduate level. In this arrangement the University and theatre split the payment that is made to the student for their work. Most colleges and university offer work-study programs as part of a student’s financial aid package. All ushers are volunteers.

When asked what she thought an important take-away message for other communities working to save a historic theatre might be, the Executive Director said “mixed use is very important. The largest variety of use of the space will mean more revenue for the organization.” Making more revenue will show the community that the theatre is able to keep it operating, and can in turn mean more donations. She also pointed out that climate control is very expensive in a building of this size and age, another point for potential managers to consider when looking at financial aspects of running historic structure.