Main Street Youth Theatre's success prompts A-tax board to approve funds

A Hilton Head Island theater program is on the road to financial recovery after moving to a new location and a larger performance venue, its leaders say.

Main Street Youth Theatre moved earlier this year to a 5,000-square-foot building cq at 25 New Orleans Road. .

The nonprofit organization's lease at 3000 Main St. expired in April. Instead of renegotiating, the group leased a cheaper space for rehearsals, classes, set-building and storage.

For performances, the theater rents Hilton Head Island High School's Visual and Performing Arts Center from the Beaufort County School District.

The moves saved the group about $6,000 a month in rent, maintenance, utility payments and property taxes, said Kim Likins, executive director.

The theater now can accommodate an audience more than three times the size as at its old location.

"We finally have control over our cost structure and are no longer paying for space that was going unused," said Barry Bryant, chairman of the theater's board of directors.

The announcement was welcome news to members of the town's Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee. Members voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend that the Town Council award an additional $22,714 to Main Street Youth Theatre.

"This is a substantial improvement over what you were facing in previous years," said Willis Shay, committee chairman.

The theater received $25,000 in accommodations-tax revenues -- derived from a tax on overnight lodging, also known as a bed tax -- from the town in February. The council placed $22,714 in reserve pending the outcome of the move and an updated financial report. The organization typically receives $40,000 to $45,000 from the town's bed tax.

Bryant said the theater's move and subsequent savings would not have been possible without a $280,262 gift from the estate of Judy Gallagher, a longtime contributor to the organization. Part of the money was used to pay off and convert about $160,000 in short-term debt to $60,000 in long-term debt, Bryant said.

The theater projects a net income of more than $82,000 by the end of the year.

Despite the rosier financial picture, money is still needed to make up for losses in charitable giving, Likins said.

"Our expenses are down, but we are seeing a loss in revenue in grants and donations, which is directly attributed to the economy," she said.

Likins said the bed-tax money will pay for part of the group's $69,177 in anticipated production expenses, such as royalty fees, set design, musical direction, choreography and costumes.

Main Street Youth Theatre began in 1997 as the Hilton Head Community and Youth Theater. Productions were staged at the community playhouse in Dunnagans Alley, which was recently demolished. In 2006 the theater group was renamed and moved to Main Street.