Oct. 18, 2007
By Mary Reed
It's been six years since Ohio University stepped in and bought the Athena Theater when the business was put up for sale. A lot has changed since then, so the university is enlisting a group of its own business students to help map the theater's future.
"It's really time to take a look at the theater and make sure that we're utilizing that facility in the most appropriate way," said John Kotowski, director of Facilities Management.
With the current lease with the Athena's management group set to expire in June 2008, Kotowski formed a committee to assess the community asset. The committee includes representatives from Facilities, Student Affairs, the College of Fine Arts and the College of Business.
Associate Professor of Accountancy Connie Esmond-Kiger, a member of the committee, introduced the idea of having students in the College of Business' undergraduate cluster program assess the situation. The cluster program combines four classes into one integrated class with a team of professors overseeing the work. The students form teams that solve authentic business problems, often with real clients.
In this case, eight groups of five students each will take on the task of assessing the theater. That will give the committee a range of ideas to explore.
"Right now they're doing research," said Jamie Carter, a marketing instructor for the students. "The next step would be to develop surveys and send those out into the community and the student population to see how people view the Athena currently. From there they'll continue their research and start to develop their recommendations."
Tucker Barlow, a junior management information systems major, is part of the team. "In a very broad sense, we're trying to figure out the movie-watching patterns of Ohio University students and (make recommendations for) adjusting the programming at the Athena to fit that," Barlow said. "That's the main assumption we're going to take. Hopefully it will stay a theater; that's not our call."
Ohio University invested $2.4 million in the purchase and renovation of the Athena in 2001. Restored to its original 1940s look, the theater reopened in February 2002. It has operated as a theater since then, most recently specializing in art films. The 18,600-square-foot facility includes one theater upstairs (approximately 230 seats) and two theaters downstairs (about 165 seats each).
The theater business has been breaking even, but the university's debt for the purchase and renovation amounts to $160,000 a year and extends for another 19 years.
"I think the premise under which we purchased it still exists," Kotowski said, referring to the fact that it meant to provide entertainment options for students that they could reach on foot. "There is still a population that doesn't have access to cars.
"We're trying to look at whether the value it once brought to both the university and community still exists. And if so, what can we do to strengthen the theater and broaden its market?" Kotowski said.
The committee gave students latitude to be creative with their ideas. One thing they'll take into consideration, though, is the fact that the Athena Grand and the Baker Center theaters have opened since the university took over the Athena. The committee is willing to entertain other non-theater options, from educational uses (the theater served as lecture hall space when Bentley Hall was undergoing renovation) to leasing the space to a different business altogether.
The theater-remains-a-theater camp has a very strong following, though.
"We're hoping the students will find a way to make the Athena more lucrative as a theater," Steve Ross, acting director of the School of Film, said.
Ross pointed out that in addition to hosting the annual Athens International Film + Video Festival, the Athena also is home of other College of Fine Arts events, such as the new Arts for Ohio Cinematheque program. This program, which will take place throughout the year, screens a wide variety films accompanied by a faculty-led introduction and a post-film discussion.
The business students will make their recommendations Nov. 5.