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Accord will lead to new Camelot Theatre

TALENT — A shiny new Camelot Theatre could begin presenting plays in the early summer of 2011 next to the theater company's present downtown site.

Under terms of an agreement reached by Camelot and the Talent Urban Renewal Agency, TURA would buy the present theater and land and lease it back to Camelot until 2011, when the company would move to its new building.

TURA also would buy the land just to the north of the present theater and lease it back to Camelot, which would build a $2.8 million theater on the site.

Ted Gibbs, the head of Camelot's board, said the agreement enables Talent to have the road envisioned in a master plan and Camelot to occupy a highly visible downtown corner.

Ground could be broken by the middle of next year, he said.

"I think the terms are the best we could have hoped for," he said. "We've had some disagreements and arguments, but both sides worked toward the same goal within the constraints we both had."

The city of Talent approved the roadway plan in December 2006, and TURA Executive Director Marla Cates said the deal does not require further approval by the city.

Raising the money is the next step.

"They've been a wonderful addition to downtown," Cates said of Camelot. "You drive by there on Sunday afternoon and there are people there, happy people."

The new, wheelchair-accessible theater would ultimately have about 164 seats, almost two-thirds more than the present building. Drawings show a large, village-like structure with three signature cupolas.

The building could be completed in two phases, although Gibbs said doing it all at once would be preferable. The first phase, projected to cost $2.3 million, would be the minimum required to get the new facility up and running. The second would add a scene shop, storage, rehearsal space and possibly more seating. It would cost about $500,000.

Under the deal, TURA would pay Camelot $543,000 for its present real estate, the value of the property before the recent real estate bust. TURA would then lease it back to Camelot for $2,500 a year until demolition begins June 1, 2011, then lease the new land back to the theater company for $1 a year for 10 years, and Camelot would agree to operate it as a theater. After 10 years a new lease would be needed, at market value.

"They could also purchase the land at any time," Cates said.

TURA would pay for improvements such as underground utilities. It has already given Camelot a grant of about $10,000 for technical expenses such as an architect's work. It also would pay for relocation expenses, which Camelot estimates at around $20,000.

After paying off the existing mortgage on the one-time feed store, about $90,000, Camelot would have about $500,000 in hand to start a fundraising drive aimed at raising $1.8 million to $2.3 million. Gibbs said a drive to be announced soon will seek to raise the money from major donors, foundations and grassroots contributors.

"We're putting the nuts and bolts together," he said.

Gibbs said negotiators talked about Camelot moving its building, keeping the current property and building on the rear, changing the street plan and "all kinds of things" before TURA suggested buying the lot next door and leasing it back. He said the biggest problem was money — "how much they could give us and how much we needed to put a deal together."

In the end, he said, TURA "stretched about as far as they could."

Cates said the West Valley View Master Plan, which includes a road through the present theater, came at the right time for Camelot.

"Not only are we going to be able to do the plan in the way the public envisioned it, the theater will be jump-started in being able to build a state-of-the-art facility next door," she said.

The master plan is funded through TURA, which receives tax-increment financing, and which received a grant of almost $1 million from the state in connection with the plan. TURA will sunset in 2016, and the city of Talent would become Camelot's new landlords.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.

This conceptual drawing shows the design of the new Camelot Theatre. Courtesy Ashland architect Bruce Richey