Walton Theater still has plenty of potential

Published 3:50 pm Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Don’t give up hope on the Walton Theater.

The theater is currently dormant, but it has enormous potential to be a thriving part of Selma’s downtown business landscape, with one caveat — a hands-off approach from city government.

Friday’s Art Jam was a tremendous success, regardless of how it’s measured. The theater was packed, two major recording artist performed and thousands of dollars were raised for charity. It was refreshing to see so many people crowded into the Walton.

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If the theater could attract a similar crowd twice or more per week, perhaps the future of the Walton isn’t so bleak.

For the theater to be a true success, it needs bright, innovative ideas. A member of the younger generation in Selma could find a nice balance between a movie theater and a performing arts venue.

The theater won’t ever truly be successful as just a movie theater or just a performing arts venue. It only has one screen and, because of contracts with movie companies, it would be difficult to show multiple movies in the same night, according to Sharon Jackson — the former manager of the theater.

Another concern is the layout of the Walton Theater. It doesn’t have a pit, or standing room only section. Many concerts aren’t quite as enjoyable when required to sit down for the show’s entirety.

A blend between movies, musical performances and events in the Striplin Performing Arts Center might be the perfect mix.

As the owner of the Walton, the city’s involvement is also important to consider in any potential profits.

For approximately two years, the Jackson family managed the theater, with limited success. The Jacksons said the theater is a beautiful venue, but they couldn’t attract enough moviegoers to make it a profitable business.

The city was helpful in some aspects, purchasing state-of-the-art audio and video equipment, but the Jacksons also encountered some difficulty from city government.

When it was time to figure out a transition plan, city officials waited until the last minute and the Jacksons decided to leave.

“We told them that time was of the essence because in order for us to stay involved in this we had some contractual obligation we would have to have made for 2014,” Sharon Jackson said.

The Jacksons also needed lots of city approval.

For example, at the beginning, the theater needed city approval to hold birthday parties.

If the theater is going to be a viable business, the city shouldn’t intervene other than collecting a rent and sales tax check at the end of each month. Let the business owners do what they do best — run a business.

Sometimes less is more and, in this case, less is best.

As the city works to find a prospect for the St. James Hotel, which it calls the jewel of downtown, city officials should remember the Walton Theater is equally as important to a downtown development district.