No major changes planned as Legacy Theater Foundation buys theater from city of Carthage

Legacy theater outside (002)

The Carthage City Council approved May 9 an agreement allowing the board of the Legacy Theater Foundation Inc. to pay $100 and take ownership of the Legacy Theater. | Photo courtesy of Legacy Theater

CARTHAGE, Ill. — When the City of Carthage bought the Legacy Theater from Carl Sandburg College for $100 in 2016, the plan was for the theater eventually to operate on its own.

That plan came to fruition last month. The Carthage City Council approved May 9 an agreement allowing the board of the Legacy Theater Foundation Inc. to pay $100 and take ownership of the theater. A press conference on Wednesday morning announced plans for the theater’s future.

“It was never the city’s intention to own the theater long term,” said Doug Groth, president of the Legacy Theater Foundation Inc., in a press release. “It has always been in the plan for The Legacy Theater Foundation to take over ownership at some point.” 

“That’s always been our goal. It has always been in our strategic plan to own the property,” said Amy Graham, a member of the foundation board as well as chairman of the performance recruitment committee. “The planets aligned, and things were coming together in terms of our foundation’s financial situation.”

The City of Carthage will continue subsidizing the theater at 1160 Buchanan for three more years. The city will continue mowing the lawn and removing snow, while providing $20,000 in the first year and $10,000 for each of the next two years. 

The Legacy Theater Foundation Inc., a not-for-profit organization, formed in 2016 and has run all aspects of the theater operations. The theater, which can accommodate approximately 525 people, hosts a range of approximately 12 to 14 live performances each year. Many groups rent the facility each year. Volunteer committees and two part-time employees primarily operate the theater.

“I would say (the renovated theater) been very well received,” Graham said. “We are drawing people from Hancock County, but we’re also drawing in people from Peoria, the Quad Cities and Branson, Mo. We’re finding that as we continue to provide this quality entertainment, the word is definitely getting out there further than our little 60-mile radius. Now we’re reaching out to a 100-plus-mile radius, and we have bus tours coming through and things like that which have kept our doors open and have kept our reputation growing.”

The city has made several major improvements to the theater, such as tuck pointing the east side of the building, repairing the HVAC system and removing the Douglas Center building to create space for parking. 

“We were fortunate to have TIF funds to help with the work. It has been a big boost for Carthage,” Carthage Mayor Jim Nightingale said in a press release. “I can’t measure exactly, but with our sales tax as strong as it has been, you know people coming into town really helps. It has been a win-win for everybody, and I hope it continues that way. I am so glad we have such an active board operating the theater.” 

Groth said the foundation now can compete for grants and make additional improvements to the facility by taking ownership of the building. 

Graham doesn’t anticipate major changes in terms of the theater’s operations. 

“We’re currently working on the 2024 schedule, and our goal is to provide quality entertainment,” she said. “We also want a variety so we can mix and match. The people love the tributes that we bring in, but we also like to showcase original artists as well.”

The Legacy Theater was built as an auditorium for Carthage College in 1953. Robert Morris College used the auditorium from 1965 to 1989. The auditorium and the rest of the campus was not used for many years until Prairieland Investment Group bought it in 2007. Most of the campus today is used by Carthage Veterinary Service, but the auditorium was given to the Carl Sandburg College branch campus in Carthage in 2008. 

The theater box office is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday. For tickets and information, call 217-357-9479 or go to thelegacytheater.com.

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