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Local nonprofits would benefit from tax hike

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Chandra and Asha won't get to vote in the Feb. 3 election to increase the city's hotel and motel tax from 2 cents to 4 1/2 cents, even though it directly affects them and even though they live in Springfield.

Of course, Chandra and Asha are elephants; they live at the Dickerson Park Zoo. Their home could get some significant capital improvements over the next 20 years if the tax passes, said Mike Crocker, zoo superintendent and executive director of the Friends of the Zoo.

The nonprofit component of the tax increase amounts to a quarter-cent being captured for matching funds for nonprofit organizations such as the zoo, Springfield Little Theatre, the Gillioz Theatre and The Discovery Center.

That portion of the tax is to generate about $3.75 million over 20 years for the nonprofits. The organizations will have to match whatever funds they use in order to qualify for the money, said Tom Finnie, city manager. The final decision on who gets the money and when will come from City Council, Finnie said.

"Council will examine the organization's request and make sure that it meets the criteria, which is that it has to be used for capital improvements and that it has to be matched," Finnie said.

The matching component is exciting, said Lisa Hamaker, development director for Springfield Little Theatre, because it "doubles a donor's gift."

Crocker said the zoo will continue with the development of its master plan, and funds from the increase in the tax will help that plan progress. A high priority on its capital improvement list is the renovation of the zoo's entryway and the relocation of its gift shop, Crocker said, but a primate exhibit would be a most welcome improvement.

"A new primate exhibit is the most requested attraction we have. People love to see the monkeys, and if we could get money for that type of thing, it would certainly be well-received," Crocker said.

The tax would bring in an estimated $900,000 per nonprofit over 20 years, Crocker said.

The zoo will continue its private fund-raising efforts. The Friends of the Zoo organization is interested in the tax's passage and have endorsed the tax increase, Crocker said. Many of the patrons are already interested in committing money for matching funds, he added.

Springfield Little Theatre will use the money for a nip here, a tuck there, on the Landers Theatre, the building that is nearly 100 years old, said Mick Denniston, executive director. "Our master plan lists things that need attention now and in the future. We've got needs addressed in that up until the year 2000," Denniston said.

The first capital improvement the Springfield Little Theatre needs to address is improvements to the Landers' roof. The building also needs brick and plaster work, repainting on the inside and eventually will need plumbing and electrical work, Denniston said.

"We think this building is a treasure, and we want to make sure it is well-maintained," Denniston said.

The Little Theatre already has commitments of $400,000 in donations over the next five years, Denniston said; matching the funds from the tax money should be possible.

The Gillioz Theater needs nearly $2 million to complete the restoration of the historic theater; about $1 million has already been raised and spent in obtaining the building and completing its roof and marquee projects, said Bob Chancellor, who is on the board of directors for the Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust, the group that owns the Gillioz.

The next major stage of the project's renovation will be getting new restrooms installed to meet current standards, Chancellor said.

The trust obtained the Gillioz building in 1992. In October 1996, the marquee was completed. The group has hired an executive director, Dorothy Lemmon.

The Discovery Center, set to open to the public Jan. 25, would use money from the increase in the tax to build more exhibits, said Executive Director Emily Fox. The Discovery Center has three 1920s-era buildings available to it and is currently using only two. The center could use funding from the tax to expand into the third building, Fox said.

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