Saturday, November 22, 2014

City forming group to help save historic Ottawa auditorium

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 1/2/2014

In an effort to boost community interest in an iconic community venue, Ottawa city commissioners are looking to establish a seven-member Ottawa Municipal Auditorium Advisory Board.

The board would operate in much the same fashion as other such advisory boards as the Ottawa Municipal Airport Advisory Board, Richard Nienstedt, city manager, told city commissioners at their study session Monday.

In an effort to boost community interest in an iconic community venue, Ottawa city commissioners are looking to establish a seven-member Ottawa Municipal Auditorium Advisory Board.

The board would operate in much the same fashion as other such advisory boards as the Ottawa Municipal Airport Advisory Board, Richard Nienstedt, city manager, told city commissioners at their study session Monday.

Under a proposed city ordinance, the seven-member board would be appointed by the city commission, with four members serving two-year terms and three members serving one-year terms. After those initial terms expire, all future appointments would be for four-year terms. At least five of the appointees would be required to live within the Ottawa city limits.

Board members would serve on a voluntary basis and conduct quarterly meetings. All quarterly meetings, as well as any special meetings called by the board, would be open to the public. The board would set its own meeting agendas, and would select a chair and vice chair at the first meeting.

Some of the duties of the board, as described in the proposed ordinance, would be:

• Advise the auditorium manager [currently Shonda Stitt] of groups which might be interested in using the municipal auditorium.

• Advise the auditorium manager of what additional information should be gathered to attract conventions, touring companies and other groups to use the auditorium.

• Advise the auditorium manager of additional attractions or events which might increase the use of the auditorium.

• Assist the auditorium manager in promoting the use of the auditorium.

• Direct all inquiries from persons or groups desiring to use the auditorium to the auditorium manager.

• Make reports to the city commission concerning the auditorium activities at least twice a year.

• Make recommendations concerning the annual budget, including capital improvements, to the city commission.

The municipal auditorium, 301 S. Hickory St., Ottawa, at one time was under the direction of a board of trustees, but that board disbanded about 20 to 25 years ago, Nienstedt told city commissioners. Oversight of the auditorium has fallen under the guidance of the city since that point, he said.

Built in 1921 to honor those killed in World War I and as a successor to the two Rohrbaugh theaters that came before it, the OMA has seen such acts as Johnny Cash, Reba McIntire and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band grace its stage in the past. More recently, Pam Tillis, The Little River Band and Collin Raye have performed at the auditorium. In addition to musical entertainment, the venue has played host to other events through the years. Most recently, 700 people packed the auditorium for the “Star Spangled Evening with Mike Huckabee” in November.

The auditorium is run as a city entity, and is funded through taxpayer dollars. During 2014 city budget discussions in August, city commissioners talked about the auditorium’s future. None of the commissioners expressed interest in closing the aging venue. Sara Caylor, mayor, and Blake Jorgensen, city commissioner, expressed strong support for the auditorium and said the community needs to find additional ways to make use of the facility.

As commissioners mulled proposed 2014 city budget cuts last summer, Jorgensen pointed out even with a $20,000 reduction, the auditorium budget of $234,449 still puts it ahead of the $202,128 allocated for the auditorium in the revised 2013 budget.

Nienstedt on Monday recommended city commissioners think about what qualifications they would like for advisory board appointees to possess.

The board could take action on the ordinance establishing the advisory board at its next regular meeting 7 p.m. Jan. 8 at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa.

Shawn Dickinson, city commissioner, said he thought the advisory board would be a good way to generate more community interest in the auditorium and get more local groups and organizations to use the facility, as well as attract local performers to the venue.

“I think [an advisory board] could help us figure out how to best utilize the building,” Dickinson said. “I think creating this board would be a good start.”

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