A second theater could doom both

and Lindsay Berryman

On the dark and stormy night of March 1, 1997, the completely renovated Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater was aglow with lights as an excited audience poured in to experience what has become a true center of downtown Medford. Those in attendance that night and the following Sunday were proud to be a part of a project started about five years earlier, and they have supported it ever since.

The road to completion was not easy. After a campaign to raise $2.9 million was completed it was learned that the old building was in worse shape than believed and it would take $5.2 million to do the job. With help from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency, the state of Oregon, grants from foundations and donations from hundreds of individuals, the job was done. Ultimately the building was far superior to the original and it has continued to be upgraded as funds became available.

The Craterian became the lynchpin in the redevelopment of downtown Medford. It has continued to draw patrons to great traveling shows and local groups.

Just a week ago about 200 patrons came together for the GingerBread Jubilee auction that supports the programs of the theater. Once again the houses were spectacular and once again the community showed its affection for a home-grown facility and event with its generosity.

When Ron Kramer, CEO of Jefferson Public Radio, announced JPR's intention to purchase and restore the old Holly Theatre, we were amazed.

Knowing the state of our economy, and knowing the Craterian has to watch every penny to stay in the black (it has covered expenses 10 of the 13 years it has been open, including the last two years), we wondered what the motivation was to open a second multipurpose facility in Medford. Though the Craterian is well-booked, it has open dates and has always worked with those wishing to present their own programs

In a market the size of Medford it would be extremely difficult to maintain two theaters doing basically the same thing. Fixed costs preclude any significant savings from competition and each organization would suffer.

We know of no town the size of Medford supporting two similar venues that rely on traveling companies and local groups to present shows. The Medford area is already well-served with three high-school auditoriums, the Camelot Theatre in Talent, the Cabaret Theatre and Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, the Britt Festival grounds and the Lithia Amphitheater. There is also an excellent theater at Southern Oregon University.

A Mail Tribune editorial opinion on the proposed project said it was "a bit of a gamble." It is more than a bit of a gamble. Looking at the difficulty the Craterian has keeping solvent while still presenting a wide variety of fine entertainment, one realizes there is no question two similar venues could bring financial disaster to both.

The Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater has been exactly what the city of Medford has needed to enhance the center of town. It has brought people into the downtown area and helped businesses. It has presented all kinds of professional and local performances stretching from children's theater to dance, Broadway musicals and international artists. It is the local performing venue for the Rogue Valley Symphony, Rogue Valley Chorale, Rogue Opera, Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley Youth Choruses, Jackson County Community Concerts, Teen Music Theater of Oregon and community shows such as "Southern Oregon's Got Talent." In addition, special events, receptions and meetings are held in the lobbies and meeting rooms. The theater is completely ADA compliant in all areas including the balcony.

It would be foolish to jeopardize these programs by having a competing facility with similar goals and the same audiences. Restoring an historic site might be desirable, but Medford has little need for a second theater.

Lynn Sjolund of Medford is director of the Rogue Valley Chorale and was chairman of the Craterian Performances Company Board of Directors when the theater opened in 1997. Lindsay Berryman is the former mayor of Medford and was chairwoman of the fundraising drive to renovate the Craterian.

Share This Story