The Farr Best Theater has a new lease on life as the newly created Mansfield Commission for the Arts officially takes over operation of the historic facility.
Tim Eaton, president of the Mansfield Commission for the Arts, signed a lease Thursday, clearing the way not just for plays and concerts but all forms of art.
“This building belongs to the Mansfield arts community,” Eaton said. “They will be able to use the facility for their events.”
This ends more than eight months of inactivity at the 99-year-old theater after the owner, Charles Morales, had a dispute with the city.
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It took Mayor David Cook, who is a lawyer in his day job, to reach out to Morales and negotiate a deal.
“It was more about establishing a rapport, establishing a level of trust between Mr. Morales and myself,” Cook said. “We really worked together a lot on it. He has a deep appreciation for the arts and in my opinion, that’s why he obtained this building.”
The trouble started in May when a group broke ground on The LOT, an outdoor amphitheater just a block down Main Street from the Farr Best. The amphitheater will be built on city property and operated by an independent group. Morales saw The LOT, which opens in April, as competition. He responded by spray painting messages against the city on the theater, even repainting it several times after it was covered up.
While he still doesn’t fully trust the city, Morales said he’s glad to see the downtown theater in the hands of Eaton and his own daughter, Rhonda Meadows, who is also on the Mansfield Commission for the Arts.
“Tim’s a good man,” he said. “We’ve been friends a long time. I hope he does well with it. I think it will be a good theater for downtown and for the kids.”
The Mansfield Commission for the Arts was created by the council earlier this year to advocate for all the arts. The 501c3 organization will seek hotel/motel tax funds while also making money by having performances at the theater.
“We’re trying to help get them going,” Cook said. “Their goal is to become self-sufficient.”
The group got free rent for the first two months and will pay $1,000 a month rent starting in May. In October, the rent goes up to $1,500 a month.
“Morales was very generous and gave two free months of rent,” Cook said. “I think it’s a bright day in Mansfield.”
The theater will be in a prime location for the St. Paddy’s Pickle Parade and Palooza on March 12. Eaton said they invite the arts community to come to the free Pickle Parade on Main Street and visit the theater.
“We don’t know all the people who could use it,” Eaton said. “Talk to us. Sign up.”
They plan to have events on the third Thursday of the month when Mansfield’s downtown shops stay open late.
He envisions hosting everything from symphonies and dance recitals to birthday parties, children’s movies and film festivals in the theater.
Cook said he’s been hopeful that the theater could re-open but he wasn’t sure until the lease was signed.
“The heartbeat of downtown is re-opened,” Cook said. “It’s a great venue. It’s got that surreal feeling that you’re in the early 1900s watching a play or musical performances. I look forward to a variety of arts on display in the Farr Best Theater.”