Leaders want to impose tax for theater renovation

LUVERNE -- With the historic Palace Theater in Luverne deeply in need of renovation and rehabilitation, city leaders are turning to the state legislature for help.

LUVERNE -- With the historic Palace Theater in Luverne deeply in need of renovation and rehabilitation, city leaders are turning to the state legislature for help.

The Luverne City Council has hired the Minneapolis-based law firm of Flaherty and Hood to serve as lobbyists on behalf of the city in its attempt to initiate a half-cent sales tax.

The tax, which Luverne City Administrator John Call said would likely remain in place for 20 years, would be used to pay off a proposed $2.5 million bond. The remainder of the estimated $5.2 million renovation project would be paid through fund-- raising and potential redevelopment grants.

The state legislature must first approve the project -- a step Call hopes will happen in the upcoming session. If that happens, the city must then place the bond issue on the November ballot for the city's residents to decide.

"Right now, the majority of (the bond) would be for rehabilitation," said Call. All new piping is needed in the facility for water and sewer utilities -- a task that has been estimated to be "in the neighborhood of $2 million," he added.


Call hopes Luverne residents will support the bond issue.

"The Palace is an icon on Main Street in Luverne," he said. "I think for all of southwest Minnesota this would be a cultural gathering place for community theater and symphony.

"Sure, it's a lot of money, but this is probably our only hope to get to generate that kind of money," he added. "In a small town, you just don't have money like that available for this kind of project."

The Palace Theater was built in downtown Luverne in 1915 and stands as an important reminder of the town's early days.

Betty Mann, president of the local historical society, said the theater was built for vaudeville. Live entertainment ranged from singing and dancing to theater acts. When silent movies were introduced, they too were shown at the Palace.

"The first talking picture show was in 1929," Mann said.

Another interesting note about the theater, she said, is that it is still home to a theater organ made by the Geneva Co. The organ, installed in 1926, remains the only theater organ in the United States to still be housed in its original location.

The Palace boasts a ballroom over the front lobby, and a balcony inside the theater. While the ballroom had once been home to a doctor and dentist office, the room was later converted to apartments. Today, the ballroom serves as a museum, displaying memorabilia such as old show bills and equipment once used by the theater.


Mann said one of the big projects in the renovation will be to make the theater handicap-accessible so the museum can be accessed by all.

The cost of the renovation, she believes, is worth it.

"We can't live in the past, but we need to remember the past and learn by it," she said.

Call hopes the majority of Luverne residents agree, and that they will agree to the half-cent sales tax option.

Dave Smith, director of the Luverne Chamber of Commerce, said he preferred not to comment on the half-cent sales tax issue at this point. Saying that his organization will remain neutral, Smith said a meeting is planned with Chamber board members today to discuss a resolution of support.

If the half-cent sales tax is approved by voters, it would be placed on all goods and services with the exemptions of food and clothing, which are already tax-exempt by the state, said Call.

Gary Papik, owner of Papik Motors on the south edge of Luverne, said he is in support of the additional sales tax option to fund the Palace's renovation.

"I think it's a great deal for the community," he said. "I hope that the project moves forward."


The Palace Theater continues to serve as the town's movie theater, and is also home to the Green Earth Players productions twice per year. Just a week ago, the South Dakota Symphony performed in the theater. For many years, Luverne High School commencement was conducted inside the theater.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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