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Holly Theatre backers ask for public's help

Holly Theatre restoration project backers are asking for the public's help against Gov. Kate Brown's pending veto of $1 million in state funding.

Brown gave notice she plans to veto the restoration project funding early next week, along with $750,000 for stadium improvements at Harry and David Field and $1.8 million for a Rogue River Valley Irrigation District piping project that would benefit fish, farmers and the environment. Out of four projects she intends to veto statewide, three are in the Medford area.

The move appears to be political retribution against Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, who voted for a $550 million health care tax but then backed a voter referendum that could overturn the tax. Without the tax revenue, Oregon would have to cut the number of low-income people receiving subsidized health insurance. Providing health care coverage is one of Brown's top priorities.

Jefferson Live!, which is managing the theater restoration project, is urging Holly Theatre supporters to send letters to the organization. Executive Director Randy McKay said he and another person — likely a restoration project committee member — will travel to Salem on Monday and deliver the letters to the governor's office in person.

Letters can be emailed to letterstogovernor@jeffersonlive.org and are due by 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information on the letter writing campaign, visit www.hollytheatre.org.

Holly Theatre backers are asking letter writers to be civil and positive.

The theater's website states, "Please remember that the Holly Theatre is a non-political organization. Please keep the dialog professional, neutral and most of all POSITIVE. This is a theater for everyone in our community — regardless of political stripe or any other dividing line. Our case for support is much stronger without accusations or name calling of either party."

McKay said focusing on the benefits of the restoration could be most persuasive.

"We ask our supporters to keep the political rhetoric out of it," he said. "That is between two politicians. We've asked our supporters to write letters to the governor explaining why they support this project and what it means to the community in terms of economic development and job creation. We want to make sure she understands the ramifications of what she's doing so she has all the facts to consider."

In a sample letter with talking points for supporters, Jefferson Live! says, "According to independent research by Americans For The Arts, the Holly Theatre’s operation will add more than $3,000,000 to the local economy every year — that’s triple the funding contemplated by the line-item you are now proposing to veto. That is a sound investment indeed."

Once the theater is operating, it will help create the equivalent of 90 full-time jobs in an economically depressed neighborhood and bring an additional 10,000 hotel guests to the area each year, the sample letter continues.

With $1 million in state funding, the Holly Theatre fundraising total was approximately $4.8 million — within striking distance of the estimated $5 million needed for the restoration. The loss of the state money knocks the total back down to about $3.8 million, McKay said.

The project is currently out to bid, so backers aren't sure exactly how much the restoration will cost.

The restoration enjoys widespread support, with 2,411 people having donated so far, backers said.

McKay said he doesn't know if the letter-writing campaign will work, but it sends the wrong message if Holly supporters stand idly by and don't express their concerns.

"It seems to me whether or not the governor changes her mind on the veto, it's important for Southern Oregonians to voice their concern about the choices being made," he said. "I understand the political situation caused the governor to make the decision she made, but it doesn't seem to us that organizations and projects for the betterment of the economy of Southern Oregon are the appropriate place to make that political statement."

Medford City Councilor Kevin Stine is among those who have joined the effort by writing a letter to the governor.

"I understand that you and Rep. Sal Esquivel are at odds based on his actions towards HB 2391, the provider tax, a critical bill that closes the budget gap, and helps preserve health coverage for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians," Stine said in the letter. "I also understand your position in vetoing projects that Rep. Esquivel supported, but I ask that you reconsider using your pen to eliminate $1 million towards the Holly Theatre."

Stine reiterated the positive economic impacts of the theater restoration for Medford.

"Please think about the negative impact that your veto of the Holly Theatre funding would do to Medford, and instead, let us move forward to addressing the big issues that need to be resolved in the coming years, under your leadership," he wrote.

The Medford Rogues baseball team, which plays in the Harry and David stadium, declined to comment about the loss of $750,000 in state funding. The money could have helped pay for roofing over stadium seats to shade spectators from the sun. The stadium is part of U.S. Cellular Community Park, which is owned by the city of Medford.

As for the irrigation piping, the $1.8 million the governor plans to cut represents key funding for the $5.9 million project, said Rogue River Valley Irrigation District Board President Bryan Baumgartner.

Baumgartner said the project has so many benefits for farmers, fish and the environment he believes the governor will change her mind about the veto once she reviews the project again.

Piping more than three miles of canal would eliminate leakage and evaporation, stretching irrigation water supplies further and allowing the irrigation district to keep more water in-stream for coho salmon. With gravity-pressurized piped water, farmers could switch from flood irrigation to sprinklers — eliminating agricultural run-off that flows back into streams, according to the irrigation district.

Earlier this week, Esquivel asked his supporters to inundate the governor's office with phone calls and emails about her planned veto of the three Medford area projects.

The Oregon Constitution requires the governor to provide five business days' notice about pending vetoes. The governor's office released notice of the coming vetoes late Tuesday.

With the notice, Brown issued a statement about her veto of the three Medford area projects.

“The cornerstone of all negotiations whether they occur in a public or private arena, is the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing,” she said. “I believe each of these projects should be considered during the 2018 session to be evaluated on their merits.”

Chris Pair, communications director for Brown, said Wednesday she would make no additional comment about the three projects.

The governor's office did not respond to questions from the Mail Tribune on Thursday and Friday about whether she will reconsider the pending vetoes.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Supporters of the Holly Theater restoration in downtown Medford are asking people to contact Gov. Kate Brown's office and ask her to reconsider her veto of funding for the theater. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]