A proposal to restore the Holly Theatre to its former glory could put Medford on the map for performing arts, but might set the stage for a rivalry with the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater that could worsen the latter's financial struggles.

A proposal to restore the Holly Theatre to its former glory could put Medford on the map for performing arts, but might set the stage for a rivalry with the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater that could worsen the latter's financial struggles.

The Craterian has lost money the past two years, and officials are anxious that fundraising efforts to restore the Holly at a cost of $3 million to $4 million would be a further drain on their own donation drives.

"It's an expensive gamble," said Craterian Executive Director Stephen McCandless. "It's a multimillion (dollar) gamble."

The Jefferson Public Radio Foundation is trying to raise $499,000 by March 15 to complete the purchase of the theater at the corner of Holly and Sixth streets.

Once completed, the Spanish Colonial Revival building would become an instant icon in downtown Medford with its glowing neon marquis and 1,000-seat auditorium. The Craterian can seat 750.

Ron Kramer, JPR executive director, said a restored Holly in collaboration with the Craterian and the Britt Festivals would create a regional performing arts hub in Medford that would be a tourist draw. He envisions something akin to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland that posted record sales during the recession.

JPR restored the Cascade Theater in Redding, Calif., in 2004 for almost $6 million. The theater generated $915,427 in ticket sales in 2009 compared to the Craterian's $531,822.

The Cascade Theater has run in the black ever since it opened in 2004, Kramer said.

Redding's population of 90,500 is somewhat larger than Medford's 73,500, but Shasta County has about 181,000 people compared to more than 201,000 in Jackson County.

Despite the success of the Cascade, McCandless said his experience doesn't show that two performing art centers would pencil out in Medford.

He suspects that Redding doesn't have anything like OSF or the Britt Festivals, which compete for entertainment dollars with the Craterian.

McCandless said he'd be the first to endorse the idea of adding the Holly into the performing arts mix if he thought there was a chance of generating additional revenues.

According to its 2008 tax return, the Craterian spent $88,019 more than it received from revenues. In 2009, it spent $170,160 more than it received.

Total revenues declined from $1,244,782 in fiscal year 2008 to $1,017,579 in 2009, or about 18 percent.

Kramer said he doesn't think another theater has to create a rivalry.

"I think Medford and the Craterian could benefit from the Holly," he said.

The programming at the Holly would be different and appeal to a broader age group than the Craterian, he said.

Kramer said he would like to create an alliance among the Holly, Craterian and the Britt Festivals that ultimately could reduce staff requirements and help draw more acts and more tourism locally.

The Cascade has three full-time employees to the Craterian's seven.

McCandless said he's surprised the Cascade can operate with so few employees.

"I have seven here and they are working as hard as they can," he said. "Apparently he's got some magic working for him there."

Kramer thinks that part of the magic that will make this idea successful is the Holly Theater building itself.

It will be painstakingly restored and will immediately raise Medford's profile in the performing arts world, he said.

Kramer said the Craterian will retain its storefronts on Holly, which were in the original building. Roughly 15 percent of the building will be leased to other businesses that likely will have some affiliation with the performing arts. Leasing a portion of the building also will help with the overhead.

Kramer said he's hoping the Craterian and Medford residents support the idea of a Holly Theatre.

"Nobody's going to fail," he said. "It's a question of how much we're going to succeed."

Based on difficulties getting customers, McCandless said he doubts there's room for two performing arts centers a few blocks apart.

"Is there another $1.2 million that is available in terms of ticket demand?" he said.

Jim Fredericks, Britt Festivals executive director, said the Craterian is an important part of the community, and he would hate to see anything jeopardize it, particularly in a down economy.

"Anything that is done with the Holly should be collaborative, rather than a threat," he said.

Fredericks said Redding doesn't have anything like the Britt or Shakespeare festivals that compete for entertainment dollars.

Still, he thinks there may be a way for a restored Holly to fit into the valley's performing arts mix.

"I'm guardedly optimistic that this could work out well," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.