The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 1, 2013

Arts center idea worth pursuing

Daily Item

---- — Initial reactions to Sunbury's thoughts about a community arts center in the former Albright United Methodist Church have been enthusiastic and hopeful.

The capacity for 1,200 seats, quality acoustics, a sturdy structure, easy access and the potential for convenient parking invite imagination and hope.

City Mayor David Persing and the city's council have demonstrated steady and recent moves toward substantial revitalization in the acquisition and rehabilitation of property, the enactment of ordinances governing rental property upkeep and tenant review and, of course, a $10 million upgrade of Sunbury's riverfront park and flood protection.

This latest idea, an arts center, represents efforts and ideas from Sunbury's Revitalization Inc., the city redevelopment authority and trustees of the former church who embrace a new stage in the life of their 80-year-old creation.

As former council member John Shipman observed, the Albright church is such a great building that "it would cost more to tear it down these days than to bring it back to life."

Realizing the dream will mean more than a lucky coincidence and a hopeful notion. There is the ever-difficult search for financing, research, market development and execution.

Sunbury would align well with an existing East Coast entertainment circuit for community theaters, civic centers and convention halls traveled by professional comedians, musicians, expositions and actors.

How these appearances are booked, promoted and compensated varies somewhat with the size and arrangement of the hall, the time of the year, the wealth of the market and the culture of the audience.

Not everything that plays in Peoria or Williamsport is sure to sell tickets in Ocean City or Sunbury.

The notion of an arts center in Sunbury will mature in time with information that will help define the probabilities for success.

For now, the idea meets a standard established by best-selling author Roger Kahn when he invested the Utica Blue Sox in 1983.

The Sox was a Class A short-season New York-Penn League baseball team of undrafted, unaffiliated or last-gasp minor league players -- long shots for the big dance.

After seeing the weedy field and rickety wooden bleachers of Utica's well-worn Murnane Field, Kahn turned to his guide and, with a bit of a sigh, asked, "Are the players here any good?"

"Good enough to dream," she replied.

That year, the Utica Blue Sox won the New York Penn League championship.