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Despite cost, Holly is worth finishing

The Holly Theatre restoration project has hit a rough patch, with costs climbing and a deadline approaching to lock in tax credits that will help to complete the work and open a major new performance venue in the heart of Medford. Those behind the effort vow the project will be finished no matter what, and that’s important for the future of the entire valley as the population grows. But delays will only push the cost higher.

What was initially estimated to be a $3 million to $4 million project in 2011 — admittedly a “back-of-the-napkin” projection, according to Randy McKay, executive director of Jefferson Live! — has ballooned to more than $11 million.

While it might be tempting to point fingers over the escalating costs, they are really no one’s fault, but a reflection of economic realities facing all construction projects in the area.

When Jefferson Public Radio purchased the Holly in 2011, the economy was just starting to emerge from the Great Recession, when housing prices plummeted and new construction came to a virtual halt. Contractors and subcontractors went out of business, many turning to other kinds of work to make a living. When the recovery began and new construction projects started to reappear, there weren’t enough contractors to handle the work, and costs rose as a result.

Building materials also increased in price. McKay noted a year and a half ago that lumber prices were up 50%, and the cost of electrical systems, heating and air conditioning were on the upswing as well in response to increasing demand.

The Holly is a project worth seeing through to completion. This area will continue to grow, and cultural amenities are a big part of making it an attractive place for employers looking to relocate or expand their operations. Jefferson Live! can point to the successful restoration of the Cascade Theatre in Redding as a predictor of what the Holly can mean to Medford and the entire region.

The Population Research Center at Portland State University in a 2015 report projected Jackson County’s population will increase by 44,600 by 2035, and by more than 95,000 by 2065, pushing the county over 300,000 people.

Not only is the Holly a historic treasure — built at the end of the silent-movie era and converted to show “talkies” by the time it opened in 1930 — it offers 1,000 seats, which will make it the largest indoor venue in Oregon south of Eugene. The Holly has no balcony, providing unobstructed sight lines for every seat and superior acoustics.

Longtime residents have fond memories of seeing first-run movies at the Holly, with its plush seats and Venetian-themed decor. Workers are laboring to restore the interior to its original grandeur while adding state-of-the-art air conditioning and theatrical equipment.

Because construction costs will continue to go up, every delay will increase the final price tag. It behooves this community to get behind this project and push it forward.