Phase One of the Liberty Center renovation project is now complete after $520,000 was raised, it was announced on Thursday.
Which means that an 90-foot-long arts center to be located on the west side of the Liberty Center, 111 W. Fifth, can now be built that is ADA compliant, said project manager Ed Watkins. “This is a great day for Sedalia, for Pettis County and for the entire area,” Watkins proclaimed.
The arts center will contain three galleries — the Fischer Gallery, the Wood Dale Western Art Gallery (named after the Hayden farm, founded in 1819 originally owned by the Gentry family) and one other gallery yet to be named.
Tuck-pointing and roof repair is an essential part of the renovation of the 94-year-old historic structure, Watkins noted.
Joe Fischer kicked off “The Next Stage Capital Campaign” fund-raising efforts by donating $100,000 to the project in December. Fischer commissioned the architectural work for the renovation and referred to the Liberty Center as an “Arts Mecca” when he spoke back in December. The goal of the Next Stage Campaign is to raise $1 million in cash over a two-year period.
Phase Two will involve enlarging the main lobby and the construction of a brand new stage for theatre performers, complete with new lighting and sound systems, as well as a fly system, which controls and stores scene backdrops.
Upon completion of the project, the theatre will be known as the Hayden Liberty Lona Theatre for the Arts, Watkins told a group of supporters gathered for the announcement.
Robert Hayden, who moved to Sedalia in 1990 when he bought Sierra Bullets and later built Starline Brass in 1992, said he picked Sedalia, because “it’s 70 miles from anywhere. And Sedalia really embraced us, we had an excellent workforce here and the whole community just took us in. We had a lot of good (economic) help from the state and the county. So this is our way of showing appreciation to the community. Thank you very much for being a part of our family,” Hayden said.
His son Bobby Hayden remarked that it is pretty cool to be a part of the future vision of the Liberty Center.
The Hayden family made a total commitment of $310,000 to the project. Robert Hayden plans to install a few bronze art pieces that he owns at the new gallery when it opens.
“You can’t find two nicer people than Mr. and Mrs. Hayden. They’ve done so much for this community,” commented Sedalia Mayor Steve Galliher. “I’ve known them since I’ve been on the Council. We appreciate you very much. Sedalia loves you.”
Pettis County Presiding Commissioner John Meehan thanked the Haydens and Fischer for their generous contributions to the Liberty Center. Joe Fischer was unable to attend the event on Thursday.
Liberty Center Association for the Arts Executive Director Terri Ballard noted that this is the third time the community has rallied in support of the downtown Sedalia theatre. “I thank everyone who has been a part of that. Some people I’ve had conversations with have helped me understand the history (of the Liberty Center). Everybody in this room has helped in some way and I really, from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate everything everyone has done from people who usher to right on up the line. It really takes a community to make something like this happen. We have wonderful people in this community and I really do appreciate the support of everyone.”
The theatre served as refrigerator warehouse in the 1970s when Beatrice Foods bought it after maintenance funds dried up. But in 1980, Beatrice ceased operations and donated the facility to the Sedalia Community Theatre. And in 1983, a fund-raising effort was undertaken that restored the Liberty Center to its original purpose, according to literature provided by the LCAA.
A total of $250,000 was generated at that time through efforts by Ginger Swearingen, Neal Reyburn and Jim Giokarias. The theatre was originally built at cost of $200,000 in the early 1900s when it was called the Lona Theatre. Photos by Randy Kirby, Sedalia Weekly Observer.