As the days count down to the grand opening for the Tybee Island Post Theater, there’s still a lot of work to do.
Jim Kluttz, president of the board of directors for the theater, said the main goal is to get a certificate of occupancy in time for the Sept. 26 event and complete the final touches later. To reach that point, he said, would mark a major accomplishment in a long effort by numerous citizens to reopen the theater to the public.
“Ask anybody who’s ever tried to open a building, there’s a million things to do,” he said. “People need to understand, our goal is to get it open. Once we have a certificate of occupancy, we control the space. What this space does, it’s an opportunity to have people laugh, maybe cry, be together.”
Tybee’s Post Theater has come a long way since it was built to entertain U.S. soldiers at Fort Screven in 1930. After it served its usefulness to the U.S. Army, the theater was opened to civilians, before closing — nearly permanently — in 1945. It was almost wiped from the island in 1999 when plans to demolish the property were submitted to the city.
Just as it was on the brink of destruction, a group of citizens intervened. They convinced city officials to buy the property, and in the time since, work has been under way to renovate the theater into the cornerstone of the city’s performing arts community.
Kluttz said it’s important to recognize all the efforts to revitalize the facility over the years, even as the current group of volunteers work to bring it to completion.
“We try to remember all the people who came before us,” he said. “We have been so fortunate because we had a couple of board members who said they’d … step in and do this. There’s a million little stories.”
During a presentation on the status of the renovation project to the City Council last month, Keith Gay, vice president of the board of directors, reported that after nearly 15 years of work, the project has almost reached the finish line.
There’s still some items left to buy, and the money is going faster than it comes in. But more intervention on the part of city officials could get the project wrapped up once and for all, he said.
“To do all this work and not be successful would be a crime, in my opinion,” Gay told the council. “Ultimately, the theater will belong to the city. It’s in your hands. Our hope is that you’ll recognize it’s now time for the city to step up. … We will hand you an asset (worth) $2 million.”
Board member Alfie Waite reported during the presentation last month that by the end of August, $1.8 million had been spent on the theater — most of it since it was acquired by the nonprofit Friends of the Tybee Theater in 2006.
The money, raised through a mortgage, a loan from the city, sales tax revenues and through a grass roots effort involving donations, grants, memberships and special events, has been used to replace the building’s roof, windows and doors, electrical and HVAC systems, along with renovation of the restrooms, concessions, the lobby, marquee and ticket booth.
But the theater still lacks backstage dressing rooms and restrooms, curtains, an audio/visual system and sound-absorbing wall coverings, among other items.
Another member of the board of directors, Bill Blakey, said all that remained in cash on hand was money needed to operate the facility. That’s why they were asking the city to contribute.
Tybee Mayor Jason Buelterman said city officials are still working on a plan to help the nonprofit organization get the equipment it needs for a successful opening. There may be a way, Buelterman said, to buy the items and lease them to the Friends of the Tybee Theater in exchange for use of the facility.
“We’re working with our attorney and our finance director to make sure we can do this,” Buelterman said. “The problem they’re having is that it’s hard to operate a facility like that and break even, but it’s even harder if you’ve got an enormous debt to deal with.”
It may be possible, he said, for the city to buy the equipment with money from the general fund and reimburse the fund with sales tax revenues as they come in.
After all the money and support the city has invested in the theater, the mayor said, it wouldn’t make sense not to finish the work.
“The city supported it for a long time,” Buelterman said. “We devoted SPLOST dollars to the project over a decade ago to get a roof. The city stepped up even before the SPLOST to make sure it didn’t get demolished. And then the city’s been providing ongoing financial support for it. We’re showing the community supports it.”
Regardless of what equipment is in hand within the next month, the Friends of the Tybee Theater are moving ahead with plans to host a grand opening this month. City officials will be on hand to cut the ribbon, and the theater will host live music and complimentary champagne and hors d’oeurves.
The theater will host its first event, Tybee’s Got Talent, later this month.
“Basically, it’s going to come down to being an open house to see what we have wrought,” Kluttz said. “What’s driven us on this, is once you go east of Savannah, there’s no venue like this.”
For more information about the Tybee Post Theater, call 912-663-1099.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Tybee Post Theater Grand Opening reception
WHERE: Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
WHEN: 6-8 p.m., Sept. 26
WHAT: Tybee’s Got Talent!
WHERE: Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
WHEN: 7-9 p.m., Sept. 27
By KELLY QUIMBY