TRAVERSE CITY — An effort to revamp the Con Foster Museum building into a small movie house for the Traverse City Film Festival could cost twice as much as its original estimate — up to $1.5 million.
Film Festival officials contracted with Traverse City officials to renovate the long-vacant structure in Clinch Park and turn it into a year-round movie house called Bijou by the Bay. Festival leaders in June kicked off a fundraising campaign and said building renovations would cost about $500,000, with another $250,000 needed to outfit the structure with seats, concessions, movie equipment and other necessities.
Six weeks later, those estimates appear as dated as a silent film.
“It’s an old building and there were a lot of things we didn’t expect, like having to replace the entire roof and removing asbestos,” said Deb Lake, festival executive director. “We have a lot of things we would like to do, like a sunset ceiling, but some of those will have to wait until we can afford it.”
The project launched in early June, when workers replaced and slightly raised the roof on the 78-year-old building. Two weeks later the building had a new roof and little else. The interior was razed to the exterior walls and dirt floor dug out to provide a slope for the theater seating.
Now the floors are in, walls are up and workers on Wednesday began to install seating. The Film Festival begins July 30.
“It’s been remarkable; today we had 35 guys in there from different trades all working around each other,” said Thom Darga of Darga Works Inc., the project’s general contractor.
Lake said they will meet their July 29 deadline. She did not have a breakdown of construction costs to open compared to extras that might come later as they work toward a new fundraising goal. She said they are about a third of the way to raising $1.5 million.
The city owns the building, so city officials signed the $588,383 contract with Darga to perform construction renovations. The Film Festival deposited $600,000 with the city to cover those costs. Thus far the city has been billed almost $331,000 and city staffers were unaware of new construction costs.
“I haven’t heard the construction costs are greater,” said Makayla Vitous, interim city manager.
Darga said he’s been able to stay within budget because subcontractors have donated much of the extra costs to make the theater a top-flight venue.
“We’ll make our $588,000 budget with forbearance, donations, and the absence of profit margins,” Darga said. “I think I have $11.25 left in my contingency fund.”
Should the project go over budget, the city has a contract with the Film Festival to make it responsible for all costs and require the Festival to deposit more money with the city. City Treasurer Bill Twietmeyer said he won’t pay any contractor bills unless he has money from the Film Festival to cover the charges.