New lease to keep Stephen C. Foster Story alive in Bardstown
On Dec. 21, the state announced it would close the amphitheater at My Old Kentucky Home State Park.
BARDSTOWN, Ky. (WDRB) -- Even though the state was set to close the theater that houses the Stephen Foster Story, a new lease has given it new life.
On Monday, Nelson County Fiscal Court unanimously approved a plan that will lease the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheater from the state.
In December, the Kentucky Park Department closed the facility, citing structural and electrical issues with the stage area and dressing rooms, putting into danger the 60th season of the Stephen Foster Story.
The production, which has run in perpetuity since 1958, tells the story of Stephen Foster who is often referred to as "the father of American music."
"To imagine that legacy ending was just unthinkable," said managing artistic director Johnny Warren.
Warren says the Stephen Foster Drama Association, which has traditionally handled the day-to-day operations, has been aware of the issues that led to the shutdown for some time.
"We've been waiting on money to come through," Warren said, "We were going to work with our community to make those repairs. And that's what we were working on until the surprise change in the plan."
The change came on Dec. 21, when the state announced it would close the amphitheater.
"We were stunned and heartbroken at the notion that we might not get to continue," Warren said.
Warren described the following six weeks as a "rollercoaster" as he and others worked with Nelson County Judge-Executive Dean Watts to come up with a solution. They landed on the lease agreement that was voted on Monday night.
"Now, we're rejoicing that we do definitely have a path forward and we're going to get to continue the Stephen Foster Story," he said.
The lease will transfer management of the property to Nelson County which will then sublease to the Stephen Foster Drama Association. Nelson County will not incur any additional taxpayer costs in taking on the lease.
However, there are significant repairs that still need to take place before the 2018 season opens in June.
"What we have to do is tear down the entire thing at some point; we're likely to do that in stages," Warren said. "We can get in here and get the work done much more quickly. We can make adjustments as we go."
From this point, Warren said the greatest challenge is fundraising. Between now and June, they will likely replace just the serious parts of the stage that need repairs and take on more of an overhaul in the Fall.
Warren says many partners, both public and private, have already stepped up to help with costs associated with the repairs.
"We want an audience for our 60th anniversary that matches the opportunity that we have now: a new life," he said.
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