Columbia Club to Have Booth at BBQ on the River
By Bill Hughes
PADUCAH, KY - If you want to meet members of the newly-formed Columbia Club, or become a member, you'll have an opportunity at Barbeque on the River.
The Columbia Club is an outgrowth of the organization Friends of Main Street, which changed its name after more than twenty years. The club's mission is to preserve Paducah's history, architecture and culture, and their first project is the restoration of the historic Columbia Theater at 502 Broadway.
Visitors to their booth can get preliminary information about the project and join the Columbia Club at several donation levels, each of which has it own perks or incentives. The backdrop for their booth will be a large view of historic Broadway scene, along with a 10-foot-tall replica of the Columbia Theater's "blade" recently built by Lowertown artist Richard Glasscock.
Lisa Thompson of Paducah Renaissance Alliance said their first step is to restore the "blade," or exterior facade of the building, including the front windows, tile, and marquee. This will be a visible sign to the community of their long-term intentions with the theater, and any future projects. The work will require about $500,000, and the estimated cost of the complete restoration is $6-8 million, based on conversations with a group that recently restored a theater in Franklin, TN.
The Columbia Club has done paperwork to apply for grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, which would be matched by donations and take care of feasibility study, drawings, and specific cost estimates.
The longterm cost is substantial, so the group has broken their goals into chunks that they can accomplish one at a time.
"Our first goal of this campaign is to raise $500,000. While that is going on, we are privately talking to other donors, and looking for other sources that will help us with the much larger dollar amount that it is going to take," Thompson said.
She says the board of directors is feeling their way through this early stage, due to an overwhelming number of ideas that have been submitted for how to use the theater.
When asked if she's concerned about the perception that the city could get involved in another mess like the Convention Center and Expo Center, where an employee used the multi-agency structure to embezzle funds, Thompson explained how things are, and how they hope they will be at the end of the project.
She said the Columbia Theater is owned by the city of Paducah, and the Paducah Renaissance Alliance is a city organization. But, the Columbia Club is a separate non-profit organization.
"The donations that are made to the Columbia Club, the intent is for them to be kept at the Community Foundation, so that will provide another layer of transparency that doesn't exist currently," Thompson said.
She said it's too early to tell if the club will ask the city to match any grants in the future, but the assistance provided by PRA staff can be considered an "in-kind" donation. The club's hope is that the community's help will keep any city assistance from being necessary, and their long-term goal is for another foundation to take over operation of the theater and schedule shows when restoration is complete.
"I don't think any of us are under the impression that we want to create another long-term liability for the city," Thompson said. "We are just looking for a path forward to get it restored."
On Friday evening, and Saturday, visitors will be invited to come and tell their personal remembrances of the Columbia Theater and other landmarks of historic downtown Paducah. If you remember the first or last film you saw at the theater, or if you can recall visiting the hardware store, Paducah Dry Goods, or Kresge's in-store restaurant, those stories will be videotaped for future use.