Column: Fox Theatre helping save other Georgia landmarks

By Maria Saporta
Friday, August 12, 2011

In less than 40 years, Atlanta’s Fox Theatre went from being on the verge of demolition to becoming one of the most successful venues in the world.

And in those intervening years, the 1929 theatrical landmark has been restored and preserved — creating an economic anchor on Peachtree Street with more than 300 bookings a year.

Because of its remarkable success, its board — Atlanta Landmarks Inc. — wanted to share its knowledge of theater restoration and business operations with other venues across the state.

The Fox Theatre Institute was born in 2008. Since then, The Fox has provided restoration grants to three theaters — the DeSoto Theatre in Rome, the Ritz Theatre in Thomaston and the Ritz Theatre in Brunswick, a project that has just been completed.

In addition to the brick-and-mortar projects, the Institute also provides strategic planning, business consulting, restoration advice and support to more than a dozen theaters across the state.

“We looked at The Fox as a model, not just for restoration but for operating a business,” said Adina Erwin, The Fox Theatre’s assistant general manager. “We wanted to build on our core competencies.”

The Fox did an inventory of all the historic theaters in Georgia. Currently there are 260 theaters still standing, and of those, about 100 are still open and operating.

The Fox Theatre Institute realized that one of the needs of theaters and organizations around the state was in booking talent.

Erwin said Georgia was one of the few states that did not have a booking consortium, which could reduce the booking costs for artists booking multiple dates at multiple venues.

So the institute’s leaders thought that “maybe we should launch a booking consortium,” and Georgia Presenters was launched in 2009. The Fox Theatre Institute provides grants to help the organizations pay for the artists’ booking fees.

“This had not been done before in the state of Georgia,” Erwin said. “Now we have about 65 members — theaters, organizations or festivals.”

In all, the Institute spends about $250,000 to $300,000 a year on its various philanthropic outreach efforts — including restoration and business consulting and support as well as Georgia Presenters.

That’s in addition to the $1 million to $1.5 million that The Fox Theatre reinvests in preserving and improving its own facilities.

Erwin said there’s an important economic development angle to the Institute’s work. Just like The Fox Theatre restoration helped rejuvenate Midtown Atlanta, the preservation of historic theaters in downtowns can help spark an economic rebirth in small towns across the state.

“This is totally innovative to have a theater helping out other theaters,” said Molly Fortune, The Fox Theatre’s director of restoration, who has led the Institute’s outreach efforts. “We are the lighthouse; we are the caretakers for other theaters.”

Sibley joins Southface

In a strategic move to become more active in public policy issues, Southface has brought on veteran environmentalist John Sibley as its senior policy fellow.

“Southface has been on the forefront of energy efficiency in the Southeast for more than 30 years,” Sibley said. “It has such a strong reputation throughout the Southeast that I thought it would be an opportunity to build on what I’ve been doing.”

Sibley, a past president of the Georgia Conservancy, most recently served as a program director of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance. He also was the 2010 recipient of Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Southface is looking to be more involved in policy, especially here in Georgia,” said Michael Halicki, Southface’s chief operating officer. “John Sibley gives us considerably more bandwidth to engage with the Georgia Public Service Commission.”

Sibley said he mainly will be trying to advance energy efficiency and energy conservation in Georgia. He looks forward to working with the state’s utilities to get them to increase their investments in energy efficiency.

Southface also is in the midst of a strategic planning process to determine its focus areas in the future.

“We recognize that John has a good track record in advancing both energy and environmental policy,” Halicki said. “We would be foolish not to leverage John’s experience to inform our efforts to be intentional about policy as we embark on a new strategic plan.”

Building dreams

The Nicholas House, an organization that has been helping homeless families return to permanent self-sufficiency, will hold its fourth annual Dream Builders fundraising lunch on Thursday, Aug. 18, at the Lodge at Peachtree Presbyterian Church.

“Not only does this help these families with children get off the streets into safe environments where they can work on whatever brought them to homelessness, they also can return to being productive taxpaying members of the community,” said Margaret Hylton Jones, who has supported the organization for 30 years.

Jones said the Nicholas House is a great example of how a public-private partnership can be successful in a difficult economy.

Stallard, Rivers to be honored

The organization Men Stopping Violence will hold its annual awards dinner on Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Loews Atlanta Hotel in Midtown.

The dinner, the primary annual fundraiser for Men Stopping Violence, will honor Ann Stallard, an Atlanta business and civic leader; and Victor Rivers, the actor, author and activist; and the online magazine The Good Men Project.

The honorary co-chairs of the dinner are George McKerrow Jr., co-founder of Ted’s Montana Grill; and Richelle Carey, HLN weekday anchor.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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