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The Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock is launching a sustainability campaign this weekend to preserve a gem for future generations.

The Dietrich Theater will be announcing this Saturday a public fundraising campaign it hopes will insure the future sustainability of Tunkhannock’s premier cultural organization.

Dietrich executive director Erica Rogler said the campaign seeks to raise $335,000, and if it does so it would satisfy three relatively modest loans, which cost the Dietrich $2,600 per month in payments.

Community campaign chair Margie Young explained that the Dietrich has been able to retire one of the three loans because of the success its fundraising has already achieved. The campaign has received several gifts and grants in advance of the public campaign.

And to mark the elimination of one the three loans, Young said there would be a mortgage burning on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

“To date, we’ve raised $277,000, or 83 percent, of our $335,000 goal, and we’re optimistic about the future.” Young said.

“We began our campaign by soliciting our board of directors and a few corporate, foundation, and individual donors who have responded splendidly,” explained Young. Major corporate and foundation support has been committed by the Sordoni Foundation and the Sordoni Family Foundation, the Kenneth and Caroline Taylor Family Foundation, Cabot Oil & Gas, and Procter & Gamble. Additional corporate support has been received from Cargill, Jacobi Capital Management, M & T Bank, and Peoples Security Bank & Trust.

Rogler also explained that the ultimate success of this community effort will increase the Dietrich’s cash flow by more than $31,000 a year. “In fiscal year 2017, we experienced a loss of about $15,000, but if we didn’t have these three monthly payments, we would have been $15,000 positive.”

Initial distress

The Dietrich’s financial distress began when the theater expanded in 2008. It was found that the site of the old gas station was contaminated with two gas tanks even though the state Department of Environmental Protection had given an environmental clearance of the land before the Dietrich purchased it. The cost of removing the buried gas tanks and remediating the soil, created a financial burden to the tune of $48,808.

Also, during 2008, steel prices rose significantly causing the cost of the expansion project to jump. To make things worse at the same time an economic recession hit nationally. Even though $1.7 million was committed to the project, the Dietrich’s board of directors had to develop a financing plan with Peoples Security Bank & Trust to bridge the gap between the project’s cost and what was raised. They reasoned that increased revenue from the expansion would cover the debit service. The loans were guaranteed by the USDA, and the project was underway.

Nevertheless, the expanded Dietrich Theater opened in June 2009 and was an early success. The expansion provided for a greater variety of movie and cultural offerings and the Dietrich’s concession and ticket revenue increased by 59 percent.

2011 flood

Then in September 2011, a devastating flood hit downtown Tunkhannock. The Dietrich lost its heating ventilation and air conditioning system which as located in the basement of the original portion of the Dietrich and much of the Dietrich’s interior needed to be replaced or repaired. The community came to the Dietrich’s rescue. More than 300 volunteers helped restore the Dietrich to its preflood glory. Individuals and businesses donated more than $74,000.

Even with all of the public generosity and volunteer labor in the aftermath of the flood, the Dietrich still needed a Small Business Administration low interest loan of $139,800 to help with the cost of a new roof-top HVAC system, some professional labor and loss of income during the four months after the flood that depleted the Dietrich’s few reserves.

The Dietrich tightened its belt after the flood. Employees worked without remuneration and the board renegotiated its debt by consolidating its loans at a better interest rate.

Hollywood Calamity

Then in the summer of 2017, Hollywood calamity struck with its most dismal performance ever. The movie industry had not seen numbers like this since 9/11, and the Dietrich’s movie ticket and concession revenue reflected this slump. The Dietrich’s board anticipated the Hollywood calamity and added a third week to its Summer Fest of foreign and independent movies. It proved successful but could not supply enough help to save the summer season. To stay solvent the Dietrich had to borrow from its emergency line of credit which had reached $74,000.

The cost increase of the expansion project, the gas tanks removal, the Flood of September 2011 and Hollywood’s summer of 2017 failure created a situation where the Dietrich’s level of debt was incompatible with its cash flow.

The proceeds of the sustainability campaign will be used to retire three loans and will allow the Dietrich Theater to be an entertainment and educational hub for generations, allowing it to weather whimsical movie cycles and major maintenance issues.

For more information about the Dietrich’s Sustainability, call the Dietrich Theater at 570-996-1509.

Corporate help

Bill desRosiers of Cabot is one of the corporate sponsors that has already signed on to the campaign.

desRosiers said he remembers as a student at Misericordia University, about 20 miles away from the Dietrich in Dallas, that he never went to the movies outside of the larger markets, but since being a part of Cabot over the past six years, he finds that he now never goes to movies anywhere else but the Dietrich.

“What a great resource in Tunkhannock,” he said, and recognizing the theater’s impact as an economic driver in bring other business to the region, added that “signing on to the sustainability campaign is a no-brainer.”

“So many of our employees and landowners go to Tunkhannock not just for movies but all of the classes and speakers brought in, that it just makes so much sense to be involved with this, and we are expecting to talk to other businesses involved in the Marcellus play.”

Asked if he was hopeful the Dietrich could achieve its goal, desRosiers said, there was no question in his mind.

“It’s not a matter of if but when it will happen,” desRosiers said. “We’re asking folks to get on board and let the Dietrich know how grateful we are to have such a great cultural resource.”