Members of the Hilliard Community Foundation (HCF) said they would take their time to decide whether to accept Mayor Don Schonhardt's offer of a building on Center Street for a community theater.

Members of the Hilliard Community Foundation (HCF) said they would take their time to decide whether to accept Mayor Don Schonhardt's offer of a building on Center Street for a community theater.

"This is a 180-degree turn from what we have been planning for the last two-and-a-half years," HCF board president Phyllis Ernst said. "We need to look at all our options at this time."

Board vice president Chuck Buck said he is pleased that a site potentially has been identified, adding that he's proud of the work that the foundation's board members have completed on a shoestring budget.

"It is great for the community to be working together to make the theater a reality," he said.

The HCF was formed in 2008 to construct an arts and community building that would house the Franklin County Agricultural Society, the Hilliard Arts Council (HAC), the Hilliard Convention & Visitors Bureau (now Destination Hilliard) and the Northwest Franklin County Historical Society.

According to the foundation, "the original comprehensive plan for the city of Hilliard indicated that a community arts building on Northwest Parkway, adjacent to the Joint Safety Service building, would anchor the edge of Old Hilliard."

The HCF hired a consultant last year to conduct a feasibility study and develop a fundraising campaign. Prior to the campaign, the HCF sought letters of support throughout the community, including from Hilliard City Council.

On March 14, Hilliard City Council discussed a resolution in support of the foundation and its vision for the building. The question of a location was brought up, and action was postponed until March 28, when council withdrew the resolution.

"We are in the preliminary stages of evaluating the opportunity to work with the Hilliard (Community) Foundation to donate a facility in the heart of Old Hilliard that would accommodate their desire to construct a community theater," Schonhardt said in his state-of-the-city address March 16. "We have had the existing structure examined for structural adequacy and have even prepared a preliminary design that we believe would more than adequately meet the requirements of a local community theater."

Schonhardt met with foundation members twice in the past two weeks to show plans for the proposed 170-seat theater, which would be next to a proposed Hilliard's Station Park that would open in Old Hilliard in 2013. He said the city had obtained the building property last fall, near the Heritage Rails Trail trailhead. The building currently is occupied but could be emptied soon, Schonhardt said. He asked HCF board members to bring the city a proposal on how it would use the space if it accepts the building. No deadline was given to the HCF for a decision, Schonhardt said.

"The ball's in their court," Schonhardt said last week. "We left it at 'Go back and talk amongst yourselves, see what it is you would like to do, and if you can come to some consensus, we'll get back together and listen to your proposal and see how it fits in with the overall goals of the master plan, and go from there.'"

The foundation board met March 24 and decided to look into the possibility of the proposed building.

Member Bob Apel, an architect, said he would see if the existing building could accommodate a 250-seat theater.

"We don't know whether we could adapt the building or whether we would need to tear it down and start from scratch," HAC executive director Ken Brenneman said last week. "This is going to be a several-month ongoing discussion. Then if we decide we want to do something with it, we would have to make some kind of proposition to the city council, but they have offered that tract of land with a building on it to us."

Brenneman said the HAC needs a permanent theater in a prominent location.

"I think having the theater in that general area would be a great place to have it," Brenneman said. "It would be easy to find, and we certainly need it."

During last week's HCF meeting, some board members expressed concerns that the Center Street building would house only the Hilliard Arts Council and not the other organizations. Some discussion centered on constructing a second building elsewhere to house them. The HAC members said they would not abandon the other organizations if the Center Street building were accepted.

Agricultural society secretary Tim Shade said the society's board members recently voted against donating land at the Franklin County Fairgrounds to the HCF for a building, but the HCF still might be able to negotiate with the society's members.

Other concerns for the Center Street site have been mentioned, such as parking.

"We need to study this and have a better understanding of what we can do with the site and how we can address the parking needs," council member and HCF member Bill Uttley said last week. "On the surface, it appears that this is definitely a shot in the arm and gives us a better starting point for the fundraising efforts, the capital campaign that we were endeavoring to start. The location to me is superior in that it interacts very well and will integrate into Old Hilliard.

"This is an opportunity that has been presented to us, but we need time to understand all of the ramifications," Uttley said. "We can't really be asking for council's support on something that we haven't made our final determination whether it's going to move forward. It's too fresh and not been discussed in detail at all yet."