Englert Theatre looks ahead to future while dealing with major budget deficit from pandemic

Published: Jul. 5, 2020 at 9:46 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - An icon is notably absent in downtown Iowa City this summer.

“Coming through and not seeing it is a shocker,” Mokotsi Rukundo said.

Rukundo spoke of the marquee outside the Englert Theatre on E. Washington Street, which has been temporarily removed from outside the theater for restoration work.

For Rukundo, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker from Iowa City, the marquee brings back memories of going to the Englert for concerts and shows.

“I think like this and the Pentacrest are one and the same, in terms of a staple of Iowa City,” he said.

Katie Roche, the theater’s development director, said part of the marquee was shipped to Ohio, where workers will restore the sign to look how it looked when it was first installed in the late 1950s.

“They’ve removed the outer wrapping of the marquee and left the frame, and they’re going to be repairing all the electrical, the plastic elements, the metal elements,” she said.

The marquee restoration is one piece of ongoing historic preservation and renovations at the downtown theater, the culmination of years of fundraising and planning.

Crews are repairing the theater’s brick façade along Washington and its back wall, along with replacing windows and renovating and expanding the second-floor parlor.

“It’s incredible to be able to make this investment and not have those repairs pile up over time and affect the organization in an ongoing way,” Roche said.

That’s even more significant right now, when Roche and the rest of the Englert staff have enough on their plate.

They’ve already had to cancel more than 70 events at the theater because of the pandemic, including one of its largest annual events, the Mission Creek Festival, which will be held virtually this fall.

“The cancellations have led to a $385,000 shortfall, and we’re addressing that shortfall through a number of ways,” Roche said, noting that deficit makes up about 20% of the Englert’s annual budget. “We’re looking at favorable loans. We’re looking at grants around resiliency and recovery.”

While Roche said the renovations are on schedule to wrap up this fall, it might be longer before the public gets to see the completed work on the inside in person.

“We’re both planning and feeling like we could respond to being able to reopen in the fall and also understanding that it may not be until next year,” Roche said.

If that happens, she said the Englert will be even more reliant on community support than it already is.

“If we can’t reopen until next year, we have to take another hard look at what the financial effects will be on the organization,” Roche said.

Artists like Rukundo said the Iowa City community needs the Englert just as much as the theater needs the community.

“I feel like every cool college town is based on a place like the Englert, where you have shows, premieres of indie films, and I feel like, you take that away, and you take away that college-town feel,” Rukundo said.

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