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In the 1980’s a needs assessment study revealed the number one wish list need in Salmon was for an auditorium/community center. The result of efforts in that direction was the present City Center which serves many functions but does not fulfill a performing arts/community center venue.

Fast forward to 2015 as the Lemhi County Humane Society once again steps into the breach, this time with plans to renovate the entire upper floor of the Odd Fellows Hall on Main Street and turn it into an old fashioned, old west opry house and community center.

Humane Society President Cindy Phelps presented the plan to the October 21 meeting of the Salmon City Council. She recounted the upgrades the Humane Society has made to the two story 100 year old historic building since it was purchased by the organization in 2010. The downstairs is of course the Society’s very successful Rags and Wags store which is the main funding source for Salmon’s Animal Shelter. Major renovations were done to accommodate the store and to the upstairs which now hosts meetings and various events. To date the roof has been replaced, the electrical has been upgraded and new heating and cooling units have been added.

Phelps explained that the idea of an upstairs theater actually came about last Winter when the High School Drama Club made such a success of productions staged on the building’s second floor. She said the students did a great job of building sets, promoting the show and efficiently moving audiences of over 100 people in and out of the building. The Humane Society has since actively committed to a renovation plan and embarked on a remodeling project to turn the entire upper floor into a community center and theater with retractable theater style seating for 165 guests, a stage with theater rigging, a sound and lighting system, dressing rooms and lounge area. As far as the building’s infrastructure, an elevator will be added and the front stairwell will be reworked. A new fire escape will be added in the back. Architectural plans have been created, free of charge, by local architect Paul Wuesthoff and a structural engineer is being consulted to make sure the building is sound and able to support large crowds.

Phelps said the organization is asking for the city’s blessings on the renovation project which is estimated at $350,000. She said they have over $105,000 in donations to date and want to apply for a Community Development Block Grant since the project meets so many block grant qualifications such as; the building is owned by a non-profit organization, at least 51 percent of the city’s population has low to moderate incomes and it would be a Main Street revitalization of an historic building. She added that the block grants for which they will be applying cannot be used for projects on school properties therefore they would not be taking funds from the drive for a Multi-Purpose school facility.

Earlier in the evening Jim Bob Infanger, a leader in the Multi-Purpose building effort, voiced his support for the theater/community center project saying anything to fix the town’s old buildings and improve Main Street is a positive. He thanked the city for all its help on the school facility project and said there is still a long way to go but hopefully that project will continue because the school is the heartbeat of the community.

Applications for Community Development Block Grants have to come from a city or county in conjunction with another entity such as a non-profit organization. The city’s role, other than blessings, would be support of the project by way of being the grantee. There would be no funding or maintenance strings attached. The Humane Society would be the sub-grantee. If the city agrees it would be asked to supply any needed demographic and financial information as the grant proposal is being written by the Humane Society. Since only city or county entities are eligible for the block grants the actual grant request would be submitted under the city’s name. As to the remainder of the money needed, Phelps named a list of potential foundations and donors that would be interested in contributing to a project such as this one.

She said supporters feel the project would be a tribute to the Leesburg pioneers who built Salmon’s Main Street in the early 1900’s as well as to the Odd Fellows Hall members who sold the building to the Lemhi County Humane Society with the hope it would continue to serve the community.

Other advocates addressed the council. David Wood expressed his own reasons for supporting the effort and read a letter from former interim School Superintendent Jim Smith who is 100 percent in favor of the plan. Other speakers avidly behind the theater/community center plan were Brad Barrios and Hannah Vermaas.

The council unanimously voted to move forward on writing a Memorandum of Understanding detailing the support terms between the city and the Lemhi County Humane Society. The MOU will then be submitted to the council for its review.

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