By Steve Raymond

News Report Staff

Destination: Entertainment.

That sums up the Effingham Performance Center perfectly.

For 10 years, this theater has attracted people from Effingham County, Central Illinois and surrounding states to see a variety of entertainment.

There has been a myriad of music – from crooners to Christian to rockers to blues to country.

There have been Broadway shows, orchestras, ballet and kids shows.

There have been comedians, game shows and tribute bands.

There’s even been ice skating and exotic animals.

There have been big names and new performers just breaking onto the entertainment scene.

There have been sellouts, dancing in the aisles and in front of the stage, standing ovations and many, many encores.

There’s been the Oak Ridge Boys, REO Speedwagon, Jeff Dunham, Ron White, Steve Martin, the Gaither Vocal Band, B.B. King, Marie Osmond, Charlie Daniels, Kenny Rogers, Brett Michaels, Willie Nelson, Foreigner, Veggie Tales and even Pat Boone.

And that’s just a small, small sampling of the many outstanding performers that have shared their talents to appreciative audiences at the EPC.

And it’s all happened on the Rosebud Stage inside the comfortable 1,500-seat auditorium that has been part of the Effingham community since 2007.

That’s because Martin Hubbard shared his dream about a theater and found people receptive to the idea.

“Martin originally approached us about doing a theater,” said Dean Bingham, president of Agracel, the developer of the project. “He had a vision to bring it to Effingham and it was a good vision. We got together, talked with theaters in Branson and believed it was a good fit in Effingham. Today, we see the finished product of all that.”

Bingham was one of several people involved with the project that met with EPC personnel to share their thoughts and memories from the past 10 years.

“This beautiful theater is the brainchild of Martin Hubbard,” Dr. Ruben Boyajian said. “It was his dream.”

“The city was supportive of the project,” added former Mayor Bob Utz. “We wanted this to work and it has worked out very well.”

But some had to be convinced.

“At first, I thought he was off his rocker,” Brett Higgs, an investor, admitted. “But the more I got to listening and thinking, I thought it would work well and fit in the community well. I thought ‘let’s go for it.’”

The passion that Martin and his wife, Maria, had for the theater resulted in support from many in the community that were willing to make financial investments in the project.

“When we found out the theater was coming, we wanted to be a part of it,” said Pamette Balda, who along with her husband Brian, were initial investors. “We were looking for a way to invest in our town. We were even more excited when the city got involved.”

“When you talked to him, you could tell his whole heart was in it,” Higgs added. “It created quite a buzz around town. Nothing but good was being talked about it.

“I’ll never forget the day Martin Hubbard and Jack Schultz came to my welding shop,” Higgs continued. “They explained it and the more they talked about it, the deeper I got involved. I finally said ‘let’s do this. Let’s make it happen.’”

“Jack Schultz contacted me and said he had something I should take a look at,” said Tom Henderson, another early investor and a part of the board of directors today. “I thought it had a lot of promise. And with Jack expressing a lot of desire for this project, that influenced me.”

Agracel, along with Hubbard and architects from Branson, put the design together. They also raised $1.8 million from investors.

“We owe a multitude of thanks to those initial investors,” Bingham acknowledged. “They know they are a big part of this theater and it’s something they can be proud of.”

On November 20, 2006, a groundbreaking ceremony was conducted and by early 2007, construction was underway. Akra Builders was the contractor on the job.

“It was finally happening,” Brian Balda remembered. “When we started seeing steel going up it was really neat. It was like — Wow!”

“Those were exciting times,” Henderson added. “That size of a project in Effingham was unusual. A big project like that, and what it meant to the community, was exciting.”

“Once construction began, it became a habit for me do drive through the area on my way to work,” Dr. Boyajian noted. “I was extremely happy to see this happening. I felt fulfilled.”

The Rosebud Theater – as it was called then – opened on the weekend of Nov. 9-11, 2007. The Southern Fried Chicks were the first group to take the stage. Diamond Rio, Oak Ridge Boys and B.B. King all performed within the first month.

“They were amazing entertainers,” Pamette Balda recalled. “You just wouldn’t expect to see those types of entertainers in our town.”

“I was very happy for Martin,” Brian Balda added. “And I was proud to be a part of that.”

“It was one of those days I didn’t think would ever get here,” Higgs noted. “It was just a good sense of accomplishment. I felt good about being a part of it. I was proud.”

“It was one of the most exciting moments of my life,” Dr. Boyajian continued. “It was unforgettable.”

A variety of entertainment performed on The Rosebud Stage over the next two years. But, unfortunately, ticket sales dipped and the theater was forced to “go dark” in December 2009. It remained closed until April 2009.

It then re-opened as the Effingham Performance Center, but with several changes. The theater is now owned by the City of Effingham, leased to the Arts Connection of Central Illinois and operated as a not-for-profit organization.

The local group, Matt Poss & Rolling Thunder, put on a concert April 30, 2010.

But the main fall season began on October 8 when B-52s, a pop rock group from the 1980s, took to the stage. The Effingham Performance Center has been going strong ever since.

As initially planned, the EPC has added to the quality of life in the Effingham area.

“The shows definitely draw a wide range of ages. For some of the shows, we’re the youngest people in the crowd,” Pamette Balda said with a laugh.

“You can bring your whole family and we can be here in four to five minutes,” Brian Balda quickly added. “We can enjoy a show for an hour and a half to two hours and then we’re only a couple minutes from being back home.”

“I think we’re better at how we select shows now,” Henderson pointed out. “We try to provide entertainment that’s appealing to a lot of different people. It’s a tough balancing act. But over the past 10 years, I think we’ve gotten better at it. We’ve learned a lot.”

The 2017-18 season started in September and will continue through May. Like every season, there is something for virtually everyone to enjoy.

The 10th anniversary weekend included performances by REO Speedwagon, Oak Ridge Boys (who performed for the seventh time in Effingham) and Branson on the Road – Christmas Style.

There appears to be a bright future ahead for the Effingham Performance Center.

And there are many people responsible for that – from the man with the initial dream to the many investors that made the project financially possible to the thousands that have purchased tickets through the years.

“This theater has had a tremendous impact on our community,” Pamette Balda said. “It helps attract people to our restaurants, motels and shopping. Plus, it put us on the map.”

“With our location, it’s an ideal place for this type of venue,” Henderson added. “It was a great thing that we seized the moment.”

“This theater is much more than just shows,” Bingham explained. “There’s not a bad seat in the house and it provides a great atmosphere for other events. It’s a tremendous asset.

“We plan to continue to support the theater,” Bingham noted. “We hope it lasts forever.”