At a public meeting hosted by the Eureka Chamber of Commerce on Thursday night, Randall Christy, pastor of Union Valley Baptist Church in Ada, Okla., and founder of the Ada-based Gospel Station Network, announced plans to raise $75,000 by Dec. 31 to pay off interest on the loan the play owes to Cornerstone Bank, with the eventual goal of buying the Passion Play outright.
"We intend to purchase the Passion Play grounds and organization," Christy said to a packed house at the Passion Play's Smith Memorial Chapel. "If we make it past this first hurdle of $75,000 -- and I believe this is very doable -- we will be given an exclusive 12-month option to buy the Passion Play altogether."
Christy said although many details will wait until the first big goal is met, no one who donates to save the play will risk losing their money.
"We will hold all checks and credit card payments, and if we don't make the deadline, we will refund everything," he said. "We are not a questionable organization. I have been pastor of the same church for 28 years, and the Gospel Station Network has been in business since 1992. I believe the Lord has led me to Eureka Springs, and I don't believe God wants the Passion Play closed. God wants it to stay open and improve and reach the future."
South Central Oklahoma Christian Broadcasting Inc. is a non-profit organization 501(c)3. The network operates 21 radio stations in Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Kansas, and Tennessee and hopes to expand into Arkansas airspace. Its primary musical format is contemporary country, bluegrass and Southern-style gospel music.
"Improvements can always be made and will be here," Christy said. "I have been a pastor for 28 years. If I don't improve my church every year I go backwards. That's not a criticism of anything in particular. We will be improving everything about the Passion Play. The Lord deserves the best."
Christy said the annual bank note interest on the property is $75,000. There is a second note as well, he said, but payments on it were set up on a monthly payment basis, starting again in June, so as long as the play opens for the next season, it can make those payments as the year progresses.
Christy took questions from the audience, including questions about marketing.
"I would say this first year we're going to have to do whatever we can get done," he said. "But we are all in agreement we need to improve the play technically in every manner we can and expand the facility to include possibly Christian contemporary band performances, gospel festivals, revivals and other events. We want to repair some relationships with Branson marketers. No blame here for what's happened in the past. Sometimes there's an advantage to come into a situation without knowing the baggage. We're going to do what's supposed to be done and it doesn't matter whose fault it was."
Christy said the new management would go beyond ticket sales and improve revenue for the Passion Play ministry through ongoing fundraising. "Ticket sales are not enough," he said. "We work with a fundraising consultant group, and right now they have donated a week of their services to help get things rolling here."
In addition to whatever else it brings to the Passion Play, the Gospel Station Network will bring wide-ranging advertising through its extensive network of stations, including an additional Internet presence. Fundraising ads started this week.
"We were fortunate enough, in the early days of internet streaming, to be featured prominently through Microsoft's Windows Media Player online," Christy said. "For six years we were the most-listened-to gospel radio station on the internet. Every PC in the world had Windows Media Player as a default. If someone looked up Gospel music, there we were."
The overall bank debt for the Passion Play is currently $2.8 million, he said, which Christy believes the organization can raise in a reasonable time frame.
"We have a great opportunity to put the Passion Play on this year, and I think if we can do that this year at low cost, there are very specific things we can do to pull this thing out of the hole," he said.
A former employee asked about future employment opportunities at the Passion Play.
"Right now obviously the play has no employees because there is no money," Christy said. "We have to develop the most bare bones budget we can for the first year and staff with as many volunteers as we can. It's all going to be based on the budget we develop. People who are dedicated to the Passion Play will be the ones considered first."
Those wishing to make tax deductible donations to help save the Passion Play can go to www.thegospelstation.com to donate online. Donations can also be left with Cornerstone Bank, the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, or at the Passion Play itself, at www.greatpassionplay.org.