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Gillioz auditorium named for donor Jim D. Morris

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Local businessman Jim D. Morris has been honored for his contributions to the Gillioz Theatre restoration project. The Gillioz auditorium will be named for Morris, members of the Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust announced Jan. 28.

The Gillioz has been the primary project of the Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust; Nancy Brown is president of the trust's board. Brown and Bob Chancellor, another member of the board, along with executive director Dorothy Lemmon, made the announcement of the naming of the auditorium.

"Without the efforts of Jim Morris, the Gillioz would not exist today, and downtown would be absent this architectural and acoustic masterpiece. He not only saved the building, but he has been the largest single contributor so far toward its restoration and reopening as a community performance space," Brown said.

Morris has contributed $200,000 worth of his holdings in the Gillioz to the Landmarks Preservation Trust, made a cash donation of $150,000 in 1997, which was matched by a Community Development Block Grant from the city, and has pledged $120,000 for 1998. This makes him the largest donor to the project, Brown said.

Morris's donation will be used as necessary in the construction, restoration and remodeling of the theater, Brown said.

"This will be a big year of construction for the Gillioz. We will be doing a lot of basic interior work and will be opening for special events," Lemmon said.

Other local businesses have gotten involved in the Gillioz restoration project. Dickinson Theaters, which closed its Century 21 movie theater in the Battlefield Mall during 1997, donated the screen from that theater to the Gillioz project. The screen was to be hung Jan. 28, the day of the naming of the auditorium, Lemmon said.

The Maiman Company, a Springfield manufacturer of stile-and-rail doors, has also donated replicas of the original doors that were in the theater, Lemmon said.

Since its opening in 1926, the Gillioz has always been in the hands of two separate property owners one held the auditorium along Olive Street and another held the lobby storefront.

Morris was able to purchase and combine the two properties in 1988 and then, a year later, donate the major portion of the package to the Landmarks Preservation Trust, Brown said.

About $1.3 million has been donated so far in cash and in kind to the project. The total cost of the restoration is estimated at $3 million. The most recent work on the Gillioz has been the installation of a permanent emer-gency lighting system, fire doors, and the new wood-and-beveled-glass front doors donated by the Maiman Co.

The interior work is being done by De-Witt Construction Co.

The improvements are being funded by $30,000 of CDBG money and a matching gift from Morris, Brown said. The hole made in the main stage floor to remove old furnace equipment will be repaired this month.

Since the theater is now up to fire code, several events will be held there this year.

Sen. Kit Bond will announce his candidacy for re-election Feb. 16 at the Gillioz. A "House Rent Party" fund raiser will be held April 4, and "An Evening with M.E. Gillioz," a tribute and roast for the theater's builder, will be held May 8. A presentation of "Godspell" is planned for June; patrons are to bring their own lawn chairs, Lemmon said.

The Gillioz has also been approved for $150,000 in state Neighborhood Assistance Program tax credits, Brown said. Businesses which contribute to the project can receive as much as a 50 percent state tax credit for their donations.

If the Feb. 3 ballot issue passes to increase the city's hotel/motel tax, the Gillioz is among four nonprofit projects in Springfield to receive a portion of that money. Brian Fogle, of NationsBank and the Urban Districts Alliance, addressed the impending vote and the importance of the Gillioz project during the Jan. 28 dedication.

"We appreciate the vision that Jim Morris and others have had. ... The Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust had the foresight to preserve this structure, which is really a crown jewel for downtown. We salute them in their efforts," Fogle said.

Morris has also donated a portion of the buildings being used by the Discovery Center, Brown said.

"It has been largely through (Morris') intervention that we have a thriving downtown. In the 1980s, long before we had the interest we have now in the area, Jim (Morris) was already purchasing property and rehabilitating it," Brown said.

Three new members recently joined the board of the Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust. They are Cary G. Jones, a certified public accountant with Baird, Kurtz & Dobson; Mark L. McQueary, an attorney with Daniel, Clampett, Powell & Cunningham; and Susan Wintermute, part-owner and house counsel for Sinclair Financial Group.

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