Heritage, Summer 2005 Page: 14
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Photographs from the renovation of the Jefferson Theatre in Beaumont. Courtesy of the Beaumont Main Street Program.
Step one of the restoration was for community
leaders to develop a first-class business
plan with the help of one of the
nation's top theatre consultants, John
Lind of VenueTech Management Group.
To this day, this business plan is still in use,
and according to many, it is the reason
that the community received $6.5 million
to restore the theatre The plan helped
answer essential questions for investors:
What plays would be performed? Who
were the performers? What staff would be
needed? Who pays which bills?
After that document was in place, the
City came through with $25,000 for a
Master Restoration Plan based upon the
business plan. According to Carolyn
Howard, "The campaign steering committee
was composed of some of the brightest
minds in town- minds that appreciated
the arts but clearly understood the business
of running a theatre."
The actual reconstruction, too, was
tricky. While making elemental decisions
about sound systems, the number of bathrooms,
and stage requirements took a large
amount of time, the planning group had to
walk a fine line. It was not simply a matter
of saving the old theatre, but balancing
those preservation issues with modern
ones, such as compliance with the
Americans with Disabilities Act.
Since the theatre is listed on the
National Register of Historic Places, the
partnership was able to apply for federal
historic tax credits, totaling 20 percent
of all restoration costs. This generated
huge amounts of paperwork for the
preservationists, but paid off big in the
end. Since the restored Jefferson was to
be run as a non-profit, the tax credits
were sold to Banc One. Mountains of
paperwork were completed and the
National Park Service approved the
plans. When the certificate of occupancy
was finally received, the value of the
credits came to more than $1 million
that went toward the renovation.
Everything seemed worth it, though,
when the theatre opened in November
2003. A week of special events commenced,
including a performance by Lou Rawls and a
concert on a Robert Morton Wonder Organ
(one of only seven in the country located on
their original site). One year after its rededication,
the renovation of the Jefferson
Theatre was named Best Restoration by the
Texas Downtown Association.
In addition to the impressive restoration
of the Jefferson Theatre, other projects
have helped revitalize downtown
Beaumont. Among the most significant
are the $7.5 million restoration of the
1922 Hotel Beaumont into a retirement
residence; the multi-million dollar renovation
by private investors of five contiguous
properties that are part of the city's
National Register District; and the
restoration and adaptive re-use of
Beaumont's First Baptist Church, reborn
as the Tyrrell Historical Library.
And what exactly has all of this restoration,
renovation, new construction, and
property acquisition meant for the city
and its citizens? Since 1992, private and
public sector investment have totaled
more than $70 million and resulted in a
net gain of 1,400 jobs. Many office buildings
are 100 percent occupied, the Hotel
Beaumont has 110 residents, and the
Jefferson Theatre, which just completed
its second season, is fully staffed.
The success of Beaumont's revitalization
impacted Carolyn Howard, she said, when
she found herself at a local restaurant on
Friday night. "I realized that 14 years ago,
all you could find downtown were abandoned
buildings and vagrants. But now,
the very building that I was sitting inwhich
had its own sordid past-was
packed with people, and many teenagers
were working summer jobs at the restaurant.
I thought: 'Our community has come
back home again."'-Gene Krane *
HERITAGE SUMMER 2005
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Summer 2005, periodical, Summer 2005; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45369/m1/14/: accessed November 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.