Theater operators seek change

Published 9:05 pm Friday, August 2, 2013

Members of the Selma City Council will vote on amending the standing contract between the city and operators of the Selma Walton Theater to allow events to carry on at the facility apart from movie attendance.

In an ad hoc meeting for public buildings Thursday, Ward 4 councilwoman Angela Benjamin discussed the issue with theater operator Sharon Jackson who admitted her frustrations in working with the city.

David and Sharon Jackson received a notice from city attorney Jimmy Nunn in May that the theater was overstepping its bounds in types of programming, which were outlined in the original contract. This contract states the theater is to be, “used exclusively as a first-class cinema exhibiting feature-length motion pictures,” and further stipulates that, “no other activities or uses are permitted.”

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“Everything we have done at the theater has been tied into a movie,” Sharon Jackson told Benjamin in Thursday’s meeting. “We do a birthday party — they have to be coming to see a movie.”

Jackson assured that with every hosted event the public buildings facilitator, Kay Jones, was notified ahead of time. But the letter sent by Nunn states that even if events are tied to movies, having events still does not fall within the contract guidelines. Jackson argued the definition of a “first-class” theater is one that hosts other events.

Jackson said being notified of operating outside of the contract took her off guard because the contract was amended last year, when city workers were aware events were going on, “so what has changed now to where we were sent these letters,” Jackson asked.

“It is our understanding the larger objective of the theater wasn’t just to show movies, but to bring the community downtown, and bring people together and so we thought these things were complimentary,” Jackson said. “But somewhere along the lines in 2013, somebody deemed that we were operating outside of our contract, and that’s when we started receiving these letters.”

Benjamin said she would bring a recommendation to the council Tuesday to amend the contract to allow the theater to host birthday parties, school outings and other dinner party events that correlate with movies in the facility.

But Jackson said she was still upset about the theater’s relationship with the city; that the letters sent to her were “nit-picky” and “scrutinizing.”

“Someone felt it necessary to hold us accountable for every single word in that contract while the city has not held themselves accountable for every word about the facility itself,” Jackson said, citing delayed air-conditioning repairs and other issues as examples. “To be honest we are a little frustrated. And to be honest we have felt like we have been scrutinized to the umpth degree for all the things we do at the theater.”

Selma Mayor George Evans told the Times-Journal he reached out to the theater operators in any way he could and is not sure why facility issues are in question. He said he met with the Jacksons in May to discuss the contract and recommend amendments.

“I took the liberty to go over there and sit down with them personally and told them whatever you want to change in the contract please write it out,” Evans said. “Then our attorney and their attorney could agree on something and the council could approve it. So I just don’t know, or understand why, there is so much confusion.”

He said issues such as air-conditioning repairs were taken care of and any delays were explained to the Jacksons.

As for why now the city wants to address the theater overstepping its bounds for programming, Evans said it is simply a liability issue for the theater to host events under the name of the Selma Walton Theater but it not be permitted in the contract.