Passion Play may get some help, after all; Christian radio network trying to help save GPP

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Christian radio station network is attempting to help save and keep open the Great Passion Play.

The Gospel Station Network, based in Ada, Okla., which has affiliate stations broadcasting in 21 cities in five states, is throwing its weight and its fundraising efforts behind the GPP in an effort to stop the foreclosure that is just getting under way and will become final on Dec. 31 if $110,000 is not raised by then.

The money is needed to pay the interest on the GPP's mortgage, held by Cornerstone Bank, as well as its past due property taxes, which total more than $30,000, according to several sources and property tax records.

Randall Christy, president of The Gospel Station Network -- which has no affiliate stations in Arkansas, incidentally, according to its website -- has issued a public plea for assistance on behalf of the GPP on his network and its affiliate websites, and he is serving as a consultant to help "form a plan to keep the Passion Play in business," the site says.

Christy and GPP officials will hold a public meeting on Thursday, Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. in Smith Chapel on the Passion Play grounds to discuss with local officials and interested supporters their plans for keeping the Passion Play in operation, announced Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Mike Bishop in an email to Lovely County Citizen over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Christ of the Ozarks is lighted again, thanks to donations from supporters locally and all over, said spokesman Kent Butler. Enough money has been raised in recent weeks to ensure the lights will remain on for at least the next year, regardless of what happens to the Great Passion Play, he said.

In his "Save The Passion Play Campaign" announcement, Christy writes:

"The Great Passion Play of Eureka Springs has been an inspiration to over 7.6 million people and has been a wonderful testimony to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for decades. The Passion Play is in trouble, about to be foreclosed on by the bank if we don't act quickly," the founder of GSN continues.

"The Gospel Station Network has partnered with them to help them raise funds and to consult with them. They are about to go under, but we have helped them develop a strategy to keep it going and improve it and increase attendance. If we can STOP THE FORECLOSURE, we have a PLAN to keep it going for many future generations."

This new plan is expected to be explained in detail at Thursday's meeting, according to Bishop's email. It consists of "several simple changes that can be made to save it, including Marketing and Management and Improvements and Adjustments," Christy says in his statement. "It can and will be successful if we can save the Passion Play!" he writes.

Christy could not be reached for additional comment before press time.

Christy's fundraising plea promises potential donors via the GSN website, located at, that all contributions will be held until the minimum needed to pay the bank and stop the foreclosure -- $75,000 -- is raised. If the full amount is not raised, the contributions will be returned and/or refunded, he says.

"So there is no risk in giving," he explains. "I believe we can do this, together ... all of us who have been to the Passion Play, or even if you have not -- but you believe that the message of Jesus Christ needs to be preserved and out in the forefront again in America," Christy continues. "It would be so sad to see the Passion Play close."

Early this month, Cornerstone Bank President/CEO Charles T. Cross confirmed that the GPP would be turning everything over to the bank in the next few days in what he described as an "amicable foreclosure," and that the play is now closed for good.

"It is true that they are winding stuff down and will not be doing a 2013 season," Cross said. "We have been good, healthy partners with the Passion Play for quite some time. So while it's true they are in the process of conveying their assets, and the bank will be taking over in the next few weeks, it certainly isn't a foreclosure in the sense of our going in and taking over. They have reached the end of the road and are turning everything over to us."

A major tourist draw when it opened in July 1968, the play, which has a cast and crew of about 200 local residents, experienced a marked drop in attendance during the past four years, leading to an appeal two months ago for donations to keep it going.

One employee told the Citizen that the largest attendance the GPP enjoyed in 2012 was about 1,000 people in one night over War Eagle Fair weekend; a few years ago, explained Ezra Hodgson, who worked sound for the play, attendance of 3,000 was routine, nearly filling up the venue's 4,000 seats.

Regardless, the play's recent appeal for help apparently was not successful, or not enough anyway.

Although neither officials with Cornerstone nor the Great Passion Play would confirm the amount of debt GPP carries with Cornerstone, several sources who spoke on condition of anonymity told CCN that the GPP owes approximately $1.2 million on which it cannot afford the mortgage or interest payments.

In addition, according to the Carroll County Tax Assessors' office, the GPP currently owes $35,634.34 in back taxes and penalties on its property that includes nine parcels of land, as of Dec. 3.

Cross declined to discuss GPP's exact debt load with his bank, but he said the bank is "comfortable" with the play's amount of debt, and the bank is hopeful they will either find someone to buy the property and reinvest in it, eventually re-opening the play, or find a buyer for the property who will create something new altogether that would also serve as a tourist draw for the area.

"Our goal at the bank is hopefully to find someone who can inject capital into it and continue to perpetuate the business in a way that would be helpful to the town," Cross said. "We're hoping we can find someone to sell it to who can enhance it and do those things to keep people employed and keep drawing visitors to Eureka Springs."

If a buyer is not found, GPP's property and assets will be sold piece-meal to recoup the bank's investment.

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