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Lake Ontario playhouse gets sink-or-swim loan OK'd by JCIDA

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The Lake Ontario Playhouse in downtown Sackets Harbor had a challenging time attracting out-of-town visitors to theater productions in 2012. Its poor financial standing forced owner Michael R. Kinnie to ask for a $25,000 taxpayer-backed loan.

On Friday, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency board of directors unanimously approved its $12,500 share of the loan, which is dependent on the approval of $12,500 from the Sackets Harbor Local Development Corp., which meets this month. Board members discussed the loan after learning it was considered high-risk by a member of the loan review committee, Michelle D. Pfaff. Ms. Pfaff, the agency's treasurer, was absent for the final vote on the loan.

Board member Donald L. DiMonda, a Sackets Harbor resident, said he has spoken with members of the community who support the request for the loan. He also is president of the of the Sackets Harbor Local Development Corp.

The greatest challenge for the playhouse, Mr. DiMonda said, has been maintaining a strong advertising campaign that helps ensure its events are well-attended.

Mr. Kinnie's “weekly success depends on the money he spends on advertising,” he said. “It has an immediate impact on his sales because he can get the community to come in, but he has to have money to bring in people outside the community. So he's in between a rock and a hard place.”

Though he acknowledged the risk involved, Mr. DiMonda underscored the community's need for the playhouse at 103 W. Main St., which has survived more than 25 years. Destination-oriented businesses such as comedy clubs need to be able to survive through difficult economic times. He said tourism in Sackets Harbor has suffered since the recession with building vacancies. He said most taxpayers in Sackets Harbor would be willing to take on the risk of the loan because of the value the playhouse brings to the community.

“We're in the unenviable position of having to lay this on the taxpayers for whom we are responsible,” he said. “It's not a business that brings in jobs, but it brings in culture to the community that adds to the resume of what we have here when businesses from larger areas look at us. The business could crater without this, and do we want to have an empty building sitting on the side of the street?”

Similarly, board member Urban C. Hirschey supported the loan despite the risk involved.

“I agree this is a little shaky, but the playhouse is an important part of the community,” he said. “If we don't support this loan, we're putting an important part of the community at risk that's been going on for over 25 years.”

Board member W. Edward Walldroff said, “This probably wouldn't have gone through this board if the Sackets Harbor LDC wasn't doing a like amount. But if you twist my arm, I'll vote for this. I'm sure at the very least the community will get more than $12,500 out of this.”

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