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Divided City Council OKs $15,000 grant to help theater reopen

In a split vote, the Hendersonville City Council last week authorized a $15,000 grant to help the Center for Arts and Entertainment downtown make the theater safe for a return to live performances.

The theater needs $30,000 worth of improvements “to assist in making the downtown theater safer for events,” Jeanie Linder, the theater's managing artistic director, told the council on Thursday. Those include “virus killing” HVAC filters, staff masks, face shields, sanitizing crews, temperature-scanning kiosks and plexiglass in the lobby. The Community Foundation of Henderson County has agreed to pitch in $15,000 for the safeguards. In exchange for its donation, the city could be listed as a partner and receive special benefits for the 2021 season including ticket discounts and priority seating.

“We did support Flat Rock Playhouse when they chose to move downtown,” Mayor Barbara Volk said. “I like the idea of having a performance venue downtown. It’s one additional amenity that people can enjoy downtown.”

The center currently plans to resume live performances in February, although it is not clear that state guidelines would permit gatherings that large at that time.

“I think the biggest thing you need to understand about this proposal is that it is a way to not only bring people downtown,” Linder told the council via Zoom. “Under the 50 percent (of capacity) rule, we’re able to deliver 127 people every time we open our doors.”

“We are not union-affiliated,” she added. “We have people that want to come to our space and perform. As far as working with downtown, we are able to generate marketing tools” that will help to fill restaurants and shops.

Linder cited a Flat Rock Playhouse survey showing that 59 percent of its patrons would return when the theater was deemed to be safe and an additional 27 percent would come back when a vaccine was available. The center also plans to make the theater available free to nonprofit organizations for fundraisers. “So this isn’t just about entertainment, it’s about community,” she said.

The council approved the request in a 3-2 vote, with Volk, Lyndsey Simpson and Jerry Smith in favor and Jennifer Hensley and Jeff Miller voting no.