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Iris Stadium 8

A nonprofit has bought the Iris movie theater in downtown Casper to serve as the home of a new civic auditorium.

The new owners of a former downtown movie theater shared their vision Tuesday for a civic auditorium, which would seat more than a thousand people and host musical performances like the symphony.

Citizens for a Civic Auditorium, which purchased the Iris movie theater on Sept. 30, highlighted the features of their planned venue during a public gathering at the former movie house.

"The conceptual design includes a state-of-the-art 1,150 seat auditorium," said Brendan Bummer, who serves on the board of directors. "It is our greatest hope that this performance facility will provide an educational and entertainment venue for our children, as well as fulfilling the community’s performing arts program."

The auditorium's stage will host a broad spectrum of performances, from local to touring. According to Bummer, an early business plan identifies organizations such as Artcore, the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra and the Casper Chamber Music Society as groups that could utilize the venue.

Civic auditorium supporters spent years trying to buy the Iris. In 2012, the group entered into an agreement with Movie Palace Inc., the Iris’ owner, to buy the theater. Backers sought financial assistance from the Casper City Council that year, but were rebuffed, in part due to a funding gap of about $13 million.

Private donations paid for the theater and a “very generous contribution” helped the group finally complete the purchase, according to executive director Glenda Thomas.

Now that the nonprofit owns the property, the next steps in the process can begin.

Bummer estimates it will take up to six months to update the business plan and finish the conceptual design phase for the auditorium. Once that is accomplished, it will take around 12 to 18 months to complete the construction document design phase. During that time, the CCA will be working to find ways to fund the project.

"The biggest challenge for us is going to be the capital fundraising campaign. We’ve got a lot of work to do before we get to that point," Bummer said. "It’s a big project, so with any big project, trying to raise the money is always a challenge."

"There will hopefully be a lot of community support," Thomas said. "With the economy the way it is today, trying to be able to raise the funds that we’re going to need in a timely matter to where we can get the facility built, (will be the most challenging part)."

There are no estimates as to how much capital is needed, but if everything goes according to plan, Bummer projects a completed construction project in 3 to 5 years.

"I think that buildings, facilities like this, I think it’s going to bring people into downtown. When you have people that (will) come to an event (center) like this, a lot of them are coming from Casper, but a lot of them are coming from around the region," Bummer said.

"They’re going to use the restaurants. They’re going to shop. I think it will spark some growth in the development of the Old Yellowstone District."

"Gillette has (a similar auditorium). Cheyenne has one. Rapid City has a similar place," Thomas said. "I think for Casper it really can help build a lot of what’s already around here into a cultural community facility."

Follow reporter Brendan Meyer on Twitter @Brendan_Meyer13.

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