Ideas to save theater shared

Published 10:55pm Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A community think tank meeting held Monday to discuss the future of Selma’s historic Walton Theater ended with a list of ideas on how to keep the theater a viable part of the city’s downtown, but the answer of who would lead the theater’s operations remains to be seen.

Selma City Councilwoman Angela Benjamin said Monday’s meeting went a long way in gauging the importance of the theater to members of the public, and ideas discussed during the meeting would help ease the transition to new operators in the near future.

“This was a very productive meeting that aided in bringing together the thoughts, suggestions and constructive criticism of concerned moviegoers,” Benjamin said.

Currently, David and Sharon Jackson operate the theater in the city-owned Walton Theater, but they have expressed interest in leaving that post after their contract with the city expires at the end of the year.

The Jackson’s have operated the theater since January 2012, and say operating the theater has cost them financially nearly every month. They attribute much of that financial hardship to too few people showing up to the movies to offset the cost of get first-rate movies.

Even as the financial realities of operating a single screen theater have forced the Jackson’s to seek support and donations from the community, Sharon said she and her husband have not considered simply walking away from the Walton even after their contract with the city expires.

“David and I have discussed staying around in an interim capacity while the city continues to talk to other people, because I am told there has been some interest expressed in operating the theater,” Sharon said. “We are committed to working with the city to keep the theater functioning in whatever capacity that might be.”

Sharon said she was a bit confused by the small number of community members — less than two dozen — who attended the meeting, adding those in attendance came with plenty of good ideas.

“I would have liked to have seen more people there,” Sharon said. “The people who were there seemed genuine and I think they were committed to the process.”

Ideas presented by community members during Monday’s meeting included; sponsorship packages where local businesses could sponsor the theater for a fee, high school announcement blasts where the theater’s weekly schedule would be announced at local schools, courier posts at local restaurants which would involve leaving printed schedules teasing to upcoming movies on counters at several popular restaurants in and around Selma.

“The overarching theme of the meeting seemed to be ‘we need bodies in the seats’,” Benjamin said. “Dr. [David] Jackson’s first statement was that all of this was all about the numbers.”

Sharon said a meeting would be held in the near future between she, her husband, and city leaders, to discuss the ideas presented during Monday’s meeting, especially those dealing with targeted marketing strategies.

“We will be meeting with them very soon,” Sharon said. “We are all trying to work together to keep the theater operating.”

The Walton Theater will be open on Thanksgiving for 7 p.m. showing of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, which will run through Thursday, Dec. 5.

After that, the last two movies scheduled to appear at the Walton this year are “12 Years a Slave” and “A Madea Christmas.”.

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