By Caleb Stento
The non-profit group Friends of the Wright Opera House (FWOH) continues to make headway on its goal of restoring the Wright to full operation and making it a community asset. To date, the organization has raised funds to purchase the building and has completed several upgrades, including new lighting, sound and an HD movie projector. But much remains to be done to complete the vision held by the FWOH.
Why are the FWOH going to all the trouble of restoring an old building? According to its website (www.thewrightoperahouse.org), “The mission ... is to purchase and preserve the historic Wright Opera House so as to provide a shared, centralized venue for a coalition of Ouray County arts organizations, thus enabling them to promote artistic, cultural, and educational opportunities for all and thereby link the community with its heritage and foster increased economic growth in the County.”
Joyce Linn, FWOH Board member, explained, “We feel that once everything comes into place it will be a $2 million gift to the county. … There are lots of data that show the trickle-down effect of how the arts affect the local economy,”
Linn pointed to the current seasonal nature of the local economy. “When you take all the buying power out (part time residents leave for the winter), it's mighty tough to maintain a Main Street,” she said. Linn reasons that a thriving cultural scene goes a long way toward attracting full-time residents looking for a high quality of life in an outdoor activity-driven small community.
One of the first major strides taken by the FWOH on the way to making its vision a reality was purchasing the building. Through hard work and dedication the group was able to raise the necessary $750,000. Linn explained that a purchase, rather than lease or other arrangement, was important for several reasons. Ownership allows the rent from tenants to be used to cover general operation costs. The low operational overhead of a non-profit frees up resources for much needed renovations. But most important, having the building in the hands of a non-profit opens up other avenues of raising money. Art houses typically have a low return on investment.
According to Linn, the cost to complete renovation efforts of the building is around $2 million. A grant application was recently submitted to the Colorado Historical Society for $200,000 and the FWOH is required to match the funds.
This particular grant will be allocated only for projects on the exterior of the building. One of the grant requirements is sticking to historical authenticity, and the inside of the Wright has been changed too many times to determine this.
Work on the exterior of the building will begin this winter and will be carried out in a manner that doesn’t interfere with scheduled events or nearby businesses. New paint, ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) access from the sidewalk, window restoration and restoring the balcony to a usable condition are all slated to be completed during this phase. Linn commented that the foundation has already been improved, and “engineers say it's ready to go another 100 years.”
After using $400,000 to complete exterior renovations, FWOH will need to come up with $1.6 million, a majority of which will go toward much needed interior renovations.
“When we have 200 people in here with the lobby the way it is, it's just too jammed,” Linn said. “We’d like the lobby to be something extraordinary. It’s going to be a great place for social occasions.”
Meet the FWOH board members:
The FWOH board is made up of members of varied ages and backgrounds. Some have been here a long time and others are a bit newer to town. The board attempts to draw in persons with specific expertise that can make an immediate impact. Differing backgrounds also help to interface with a wider array of groups in the community. Following are FWOH board member profiles, as described by Linn:
Dee Williams, board chairman, cares very much about the community and is known as a leader. Her previous experience includes seats on the school board and city council.
Nancy Nixon, vice president, has lived in Ouray for many years. She is very involved with the Ouray School and in particular the school library and media center. Linn says, “Her influence in the community will be very lasting.”
Jim Opdahl, treasurer, holds a position that requires a large time commitment and meticulous bookkeeping. According to Linn, he is very interested in historic preservation and is a “hands on type of individual.” Opdahl oversaw the lighting, sound and other recent upgrades.
Joyce Linn has a background in marketing and public relations and uses her talent and experience as a fundraiser.
Alyssa Preston is the resident theater expert. “Her love is theater and she knows a lot about theater. Between her and Nancy Nixon, they really know theater. And you need someone who knows theater,” Linn commented.
Mic Graff is a retired patent attorney. He was brought aboard because of his willingness to learn to write grant proposals. Searching and applying for grants make up a large part of his responsibility.
Pam Furman has a background in film and comes from a family that owned movies houses. “She is well informed about film process,” Linn stated.
Jackie Lauderdale is concentrating on developing the volunteer and docent tour program that has become a necessity. It's a fledgling program, but there are about 25 volunteers so far.
As the FWOH continues down its path, the board embraces similar efforts by other local organizations. FWOH has teamed with Ouray County Performing Arts Guild (OCPAG) and the Ouray County Players to provide a venue for events and fundraisers.
If you would like to make a donation, either monetarily or as a volunteer, call the Wright at 970-325-4399.