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Nebraska city brings back movie theater

April 8, 2018

GORDON, Neb. (AP) — The city of Gordon has a troubled history with movie theaters. The first theater, the Empress, was built in 1909 and burned down in the 1920s. The second theater, the Pacer, was built by a Denver businessman to be state-of-the-art, until it also burned to the ground.

The Pacer II was built on the same spot, where it stood for years until it was destroyed again in spectacular fashion. Jordan Huether, editor at the Sheridan County Journal Star, said a neighbor had seen something in the windows of the theater and had opened it to investigate.

“They opened it and the air hit and it just exploded outward,” he said. “Ash everywhere.”

The current theater building was built by the Gordon Community Development Corporation in 1972 and the building was sold. It changed hands multiple times and was in operation until the mid-2000s, when it closed and essentially abandoned. The building was left to deteriorate for nearly a decade when GCDC stepped in again. They regained control of the building in 2013 and began fundraising efforts to bring movies back to Sheridan County.

Huether got involved in 2014 after he attended a city council meeting where the theater was discussed. The theater was looking at projectors and he stepped in to help them find a better deal. In 2015, he took over Gordon Community Theater Inc., the nonprofit organization that operates the theater. Three years later, he got to be part of the theater’s grand reopening.

“It kept getting pushed back by little things,” Huether said. “It was looking like November, December, then January. It ended up opening Feb. 16.”

Reception so far has been good.

“We’ve never sold out,” Huether told the Scottsbluff Star-Herald , “but it’s half full or more.”

Under the current arrangement, GCDC owns the building while GCT owns the equipment and runs the theater itself. It currently has two part-time managers for the weekends and a cleaner. To keep costs low, the theater usually gets movies at least three weeks after they are released.

“A lot of movies, how they set it up is, if you open opening night, you guarantee that you’re running that movie for two weeks in a row and no other movies,” Huether said. “You give the studios 75-80 percent of the ticket sales. By waiting for the third week, we get it for one week only and usually keep 65 percent of the ticket sales.”

Some distributors have different deals. To get “Black Panther” for only one weekend, the theater had to wait until the end of March — well over a month after its release.

“As long as people understand, we can say that we’re going to get them, it’s just going to be down the road,” he said.

Because they were forced to wait for multiple delays, Huether said the theater ended up getting up-to-date technology.

“It’s basically state-of-the-art,” he said. “It all just came out this summer.”

The theater can also be used for more than showing movies, Huether said. The sound system and projector can be used for presentations and can be rented by private groups for seminars and parties.

“Two weeks after opening, the speech team held their Night of Forensics here,” he said. “We’re in the process of maybe building a permanent stage in the front to elevate people for the back seats to see.”

The theater is also the only one of its kind in Sheridan County. It’s a 45-minute drive from Gordon to the nearest theater in Chadron or Martin, South Dakota. That’s something that Huether hopes will draw families to the area.

“I think it’s huge, just as far from a financial aspect of bringing and keeping people here,” he said. “To get employees to come here, you have to have things to draw them. People who want to come start families, they need things for their families to do.”

Between fundraising, grants and donations, the theater was completely gutted. During the 10 years it was closed, the roof leaked and mold spread. Most of the work was done over by contractors Fred Russell and later Jason Harding, who donated time to return the building to working order. The renovation included making the bathrooms ADA-compliant, replacing the theater’s mold-infested drop-ceiling, and installing an overhead sprinkler system.

Just in case of fire.


Information from: Star-Herald, http://www.starherald.com

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