Vicksburg Theatre Guild burns mortgage after 34 years of notes

Published 11:27 am Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The fire that burned at the Vicksburg Theatre Guild’s Parkside Playhouse Saturday night was extinguished quickly amid smiles, cheers and toasts, a milestone in the guild’s more than 75-year history.

Dr. Paul Ballard, president of the VTG, put a match to copies of the mortgage the group had been paying on the theater since 1978 and another more recent note taken out to repair air conditioning.

“We can breathe a little easier now and not have to be quite so tight about our shows and budgets,” Ballard said Monday. “Now we can put on some shows that have a little more pizzazz to them.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Ballard, elected head of the guild’s board of directors in July, made it a priority to get the mortgage paid off before its scheduled October 2013 retirement date.

“It will save us interest and eliminate the monthly payment in our budget,” he said. “I put out the word, asking friends of the theater and people who have been involved with us over the years.”

Donations of $5 to $2,000 came in, eventually totaling about $15,000, Ballard said, and mortgage holder RiverHills Bank pledged $10,000, to be doled out in four $2,500-increments.

The first two, at the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012, along with the private donations, allowed the VTG to pay off the notes in February.

The bank will make its two remaining donations in 2013 and 2014, which the VTG will be able to use for other projects.

The VTG was chartered in 1936 and is Mississippi’s oldest nonprofit arts organization. Productions were performed in school auditoriums, onboard the old Sprague riverboat and in a building on Bowmar Avenue before Parkside Playhouse was built at Iowa Boulevard and North Frontage Road in 1977.

It initially carried a hefty $320,000-plus mortgage, with payments of about $4,000 a month, Ballard said. After a couple of refinancings as interest rates went down, along with lump-sum payments to the principal from various donations and fund-raisers, the VTG was paying $872 a month.

VTG directors chose to wait to light up those notes — well, copies of the notes — because they wanted to invite donors to a special ceremony. Intermission during the final performance of the spring production, “The Foreigner,” worked out best, Ballard said.

“We had over 100 people in the audience, and about 25 or 30 of them were donors to the mortgage retirement campaign,” he said.

Parkside Playhouse, which seats about 250, has provided the stage for comedies, dramas, Broadway musicals, children’s productions, local dance troupes, and the “Guiness World Records” longest-running melodrama, “Gold in the Hills.”

It also survived a real-life near-tragedy, the 2006 fire that damaged electrical units and caused smoke damage.

Without the burden of a monthly mortgage payment, the VTG hopes to update stage lighting fixtures and the sound system and begin systematic, long-term building maintenance and improvements, Ballard said.

The VTG’s board of directors and all its volunteers are grateful for the support from RiverHills Bank and all of those who donated, he said.