By Yustin Riopko
MONROE – City council will vote next month on whether to fund a theater and science museum downtown.
Center Theatre operated as a traditional movie theater between 1940 and 1991. The building sat vacant for 22 years until purchased in 2013 by the city.
There has been talk of renovating the theater for use again, and now the city is stepping up to the plate.
Center Theatre, located at 118 S. Main St., will provide a space to rent for events or use as a movie theater and performing arts stage. Total project costs are estimated at approximately $6.6 million.
The Monroe Science Center located at 316 E. Franklin St. will provide hands-on science-related exhibits geared toward children through age 13. Exhibits will correlate to Monroe and Union County businesses and heritage with themes like aviation, aerospace, agricultural, medical and manufacturing. Total project costs are estimated at $4.9 million.
The city already owns the buildings for both of these projects and will issue debt to provide the money needed for the rehabilitation of the buildings.
Although the average annual debts for the next 20 years will be $244,000 for the Center Theatre and $199,000 for the Science Center, Assistant City Manager Brian Borne said the city won’t have to raise taxes to pay for the projects. The Center Theatre loan will be paid through the travel and tourism tax, and the Science Center will be repaid through the general fund.
With bids due in August and a hopeful completion date of October 2019, some council members are concerned that there are too many variables left in the equation.
“It’s just troubling that we don’t have an annual cost of operations for either one of these projects,” Councilman Billy Jordan said. “And we’re getting ready to go ahead and put them out to bid and start building them without knowing what kind of an impact the operations of each project might have on the general fund.”
Borne was confident the projects would work out in time.
“I think once the bid is awarded and construction is started with the science center,” Borne said, “both of these facilities will be online as crown jewels for the city of Monroe.”