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County to invest in Zebulon’s digital conversion project

The Zebulon Theater got a boost Tuesday night as the Grady County Commission voted 3-2 to invest $4,000 in the community theater’s conversion to a digital projection system.
Commission Chairman T.D. David voted with Vice Chairman LaFaye Copeland and Commissioner Elwyn Childs to approve the expenditure. Commissioners Charles Norton and Billy Poitevint voted against the Zebulon appropriation.
Former Cairo Mayor Richard VanLandingham has solicited both the Grady County Commission and Cairo City Council to invest $4,000 each into the theater and he has pledged to match that with a personal contribution of $4,000.
“Whether someone else makes a contribution or not should have no weight. We are going to either lead one way or another. We have to either say we can’t do this or say we will do this and that’s it,” Chairman David said.
Commissioner Norton questioned who owns the Zebulon Theater.
Regional Community Center Board Chairman Bert Wind, who was present Tuesday night, told commissioners that the theater is owned by the Regional Community Center, which, according to Wind, is a nonprofit entity that was created approximately 13 years ago.
“The RCC board owns the Zebulon Theater and manages the Grady Cultural Center. All bills for the Zebulon are paid by the Zebulon Theater including insurance, utilities, all maintenance and consumables,” Wind stated.
Norton also questioned what revenues are used to operate the theater.
Wind said that the Zebulon operates off of ticket sales and profits from its concession stand. He said that the Grady Cultural Center receives a portion of the city of Cairo’s hotel/motel tax in addition to rental income to operate that facility.
Vice Chairman LaFaye Copeland said that the ex-mayor told her and Commissioner Childs that the city would invest $4,000 in the theater if the county commission agreed to do so.
Chairman David warned against making a decision based on what the city may or may not do.
Lequita LeGette, granddaughter of Zebulon founder Ethel Blanton, also addressed the board Tuesday night and encouraged the county to support the theater with a donation.
She said that many small communities envy Cairo for still having a theater, but she warned that without support the theater could cease to exist.
Mrs. LeGette said that the Zebulon could be the cornerstone for a revitalized downtown Cairo. “If we don’t pull the citizens of Cairo and Grady County together to keep what we have and add to it we’re not going to exist 20 years from now and we may not have many taxpayers downtown if we don’t keep it viable,” she added.
The Zebulon is not able to show a movie this weekend due to the lack of 35 mm prints of new releases, but Wind reports the digital projection system has been ordered and will be installed in the coming weeks.
RCC board members and Zebulon volunteers launched a campaign in 2013 to raise money to convert the Zebulon from film to a digital projection system. The Jewels and Jeans auction held earlier this year netted approximately $12,000, leaving the campaign just $10,000 short of having enough money to complete the digital conversion.
Last month the RCC board voted to obtain short-term financing to make up the approximately $10,000 deficit from fundraising activities and order the new digital projection system for the community-owned theater.
“The community has shown its commitment to preserving the Zebulon and allowing us to screen newly released movies. The board is hopeful the additional $10,000 can be raised through donations,” Wind said.
Supporters of the Zebulon to date have contributed approximately $47,000 during the fund raising campaign begun last year and all of those donations are earmarked for the digital conversion project, according to Wind.
Anyone wishing to help the Zebulon may do so by contacting either Robert Dykes at 229-378-7405, or Candace Dickerson at 229-977-3846, or by going to the theater during operating hours, or by mailing a check made out to the Zebulon to RCC/Zebulon, P.O. Box 1330, Cairo, GA 39828.
Next weekend the Syrup City Players will present the play “On Golden Pond” but after the live stage performances Wind says there will be weekends when no movies are shown until the new equipment is installed.
“There are so few new releases on 35 mm film that we will be extremely limited as to what we can show. Some movies that we can get have so little broad appeal it doesn’t make financial sense to pay to get them. Please bear with us during this transition and if you can help us financially, and have not had the opportunity to do so, please make a contribution today,” Wind said.

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