Saturday, December 20, 2014

Join the crowd: Entrepreneur’s effort deserves boost from local sources


One casualty of the economic slowdown in the United States has been good old-fashioned American entrepreneurship.

The number of start-up businesses has declined nearly nine percent with one of the reasons being a shortage of start-up funding. The funding gap faced by most entrepreneurs — the revenue gap to set-up the business versus operating a business — can be significant. Tighter loan criteria imposed upon banks by the federal government has made getting a loan tougher without a better than decent credit score.

Tougher times often yield more creative problem solving solutions, resulting in fundraising tactics like crowd-sourcing. Crowd-sourcing is an online method for people to donate and/or invest in start-up ventures they want to help. Much like open-source software programs where users share ideas and continue to innovate, the feedback from these investor niche communities pay dividends in a number of ways. While some of the investments provide some kind of a payout, many others offer a share of the budding company. This investment strategy also offers some risk since fewer than 10 percent of start-up businesses succeed.

One of the best-known crowd-sourcing websites is Kickstarter. has helped generate more than $450 million for various projects during the past four years. Today, a local business is on that list. The Plaza Grill and Cinema, 209 S. Main St., Ottawa, is in the midst of a 30-day fundraising effort to generate the needed start-up funds to preserve the 108-year old historic gem — helping the theater continue showing first-run movies as well as converting it to a regional tourist attraction. Transitioning the Plaza into a “cinemagical” movie experience will require start-up funds to re-invent one of the screens into an IMAX-like experience, as well as acquiring a trolley to transport guests from the Midland Railway and producing a documentary film tracing the history of motion pictures from silent movies to the present-day 4-D movies. Making all this magic happen costs money, but it could well be the catalyst for a lot more tourists in the area.

It isn’t difficult to imagine how one themed destination can transform a community and Ottawa has the opportunity to do just that. Several local residents and other interested parties already have stepped up to do so. More than $7,000 has been pledged from 33 backers, or an average of $212 each toward a $45,000 goal, to give The Plaza the kick start it needs to become the regional tourist attraction its owner, Peach Madl, knows it can be. Madl is being assisted in the endeavor by Kristi Lee, Franklin County Convention and Visitors Bureau director, as well as Deb Barker, Franklin County Historical Society director.

Potential investors have an extra incentive to participate in the project though — matching funds. A local resident, with a fondness for the theater, has pledged to match every donation with an equal dollar amount — up to $50,000. Time is short with just three days to go on the campaign. If the $45,000 Kickstarter goal isn’t met, then the project doesn’t get any money. We can’t let that happen. Crowd-sourcing can’t make this happen if local people — who have the most to gain from the initiative — don’t join the crowd.

Ottawa is home to the oldest operating theater in America. We all can and should be proud of that fact. Help preserve the Plaza so people from everywhere can enjoy learning about the history of motion pictures in the country’s oldest operating cinema. Success will help build a crystal clear crown jewel of a tourist attraction, integrating Ottawa’s nostalgic Americana environment with the Ol’ Marais River Run car show, railroad tourists and others for an even grander cluster of tourist destinations that can help the local economy through increased sales tax and bed tax revenue as well as foster other tourist-oriented businesses. This kind of a venture is the kind that can foster other entrepreneurs to take the inevitable leap of faith to open their own business and grow jobs.

Help preserve the Plaza with your pledge today — before time runs out at 11:52 a.m. Tuesday. The theater you save will be your own.

— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher

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