SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — The cost to rent South Pittsburg's historic Princess Theatre is going up.
At the March meeting of the South Pittsburg City Commission, Mayor Virgil Holder said the city pays an average of $6,529 per month, not including insurance costs, to maintain the facility.
He recommended raising the daily rental fee from $150 to $400 with an additional $125 charge for cleaning.
"That makes me sad," South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society member Carolyn Millhiser said.
"Well, I'm sorry about that," Holder told Millhiser. "But it makes the citizens of South Pittsburg sad of really pulling the money out of their pockets each month, too."
Renters would still have to pay the same $500 refundable security deposit, and the fee would include the city's own personnel who would operate the theater's sound system.
"At $150 per day rental for the Princess Theatre, we don't even pay the utility bill for that day," Holder said. "Even at $400, we're not going to break even or anything, but it will help offset costs a little bit to the citizens of South Pittsburg."
The board voted 3-2 to increase the fee.
Commissioner Samantha Rector, who voted against the fee hike, questioned if schools or local pageants would have to pay the increased price, too.
Holder said anyone who wanted to use the theatre would have to pay the same fee, but South Pittsburg would donate the venue's use to the National Cornbread Festival.
"My thinking is we want it used," Rector said. "So, I'm thinking if we start with a bigger rental fee, we're going to push people to not use it. Then we're going to by paying $6,000 for it to sit empty."
"I don't think it's going to be sitting empty," Holder said. "We've got several things already lined up just waiting."
Resident Jimmy Layne, who said he's "in the industry," disagreed.
"There's not been any large acts there in a long time, simply because of the price," he told the board. "If you're going to $400, nobody's going to rent that. People talk, and it's going to be very hard to get people to come into the Princess when there's not been any positive things happen. In order to go up on the price, you have to have seen a good year of positive things happening in a facility."
Holder said the theater had been managed by a private contractor hired by the previous administration, and that's where many of the venue's current problems originated.
"We have acts already lined up," he said. "We will have acts in here, and it will be used. Our reputation is not as bad because the reputation went with the folks that were running it before."
Holder said he's also exploring setting up a "conglomerate" of similar venues in the area that would work together to bring acts to each spot.
"I wouldn't do it the way you're doing it," Layne said.
The board also voted 4-1 to raise the daily rental fee for the old National Guard Armory building from $150 with a $100 security deposit to $250 with a $200 deposit.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at email@example.com.