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Totah Theater receives $135K grant for projection, sound equipment

Funding comes from New Mexico MainStreet program

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
State officials have awarded a $135,000 grant to the Totah Theater for the purchase of projection and sound equipment.
  • The money will be used to purchase a Dolby 7.1 sound system and digital cinema projector.
  • The new equipment will complement the planned renovation of the theater, which was built in 1949 and first renovated in the 1980s.
  • A $1 million renovation of the venue is expected to be done by summer.

FARMINGTON — Efforts to convert the aging Totah Theater in downtown Farmington into a hub for local film and TV production got a big shot in the arm. The theater has received a $135,000 grant for digital projection and sound equipment from New Mexico MainStreet and the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

Devin Neeley, the spokesman for San Juan County, which owns the theater at 315 W. Main St., said the money would be used to purchase a Dolby 7.1 sound system and digital cinema projector. He said the theater currently has no projection equipment.

The new equipment will complement the planned renovation of the theater, which was built in 1949 and first renovated in the 1980s. The new renovation will include infrastructure improvements, equipment upgrades and changes to bring the venue into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The San Juan County Commission awarded a contract to the Jaynes Corporation of Farmington on Dec. 15 for a little more than $1 million to perform the work. During that same meeting, commissioners approved a measure to transfer ownership of the property to the City of Farmington when the renovation is complete.

Neeley said he was not sure if the renovation work has begun, but he did say at least one preconstruction meeting already has taken place. The renovation is expected to be done by this summer, he said.

More:San Juan County Commission OKs $1M renovation contract for Totah Theater

Officials have said the renovated theater will be used for a variety of purposes, including auditions and office space for film and TV producers, as well as serving as a training site for local film and TV crew members. It also will continue to be used for live music and theater productions, as well as film screenings.

"This investment in the Totah Theater proves that the film industry is more than just the Rio Grande corridor," County Commission chairman John Beckstead stated in a press release from the county. "With continued coordinated efforts of the local, county and state level, the spotlight on the Four Corners is bright. Our moves to diversify into the film industry are taking shape."

Neeley said officials at the New Mexico Film Office had encouraged Farmington officials to apply for the money, which is administered through New Mexico MainStreet, a program of the economic development department. New Mexico MainStreet awarded $1.5 million grants for public infrastructure projects around the state, including projects in Deming, Lovington and Truth or Consequences.

"These public infrastructure projects will aid New Mexico's economic recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic because they create jobs, build confidence in business owners and incentivize commercial property improvements," Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes stated in a press release from the department.

The theater is part of Totah Studios, a new entity that is being operated as a partnership between the county and the city of Farmington as part of an economic development initiative centered on attracting more film and TV productions to the area.

The other element of Totah Studios will be a 120-acre film backlot owned by the city. The site is located near Jackson Lake and N.M. Highway 170 northwest of Farmington.

The county used a little more than $300,000 in capital outlay funding from the state to purchase the Totah Theater in March 2020 from Taylor LLC, which had owned and operated the venue for many years.

County officials have said they anticipate using an additional $350,000 in capital outlay funding for construction projects on the backlot. As many as five structures could be built at the site, which is intended to serve as a backdrop for sets ranging from a Middle Eastern village to a Native American pueblo.

San Juan County has seen an increasing amount of film and TV production activity in recent years, and local officials have focused on that industry as part of their efforts to diversify an economy dominated by and prone to the ups and downs of the energy business.

The latest film to include scenes shot in San Juan County is "Canyon del Muerto," which is being filmed in locations across the state this winter, state officials have said. It chronicles the story of Ann Axtell Morris, one of America's first female archaeologists, and stars Abigail Lawrie, Val Kilmer, Wes Studi and Tom Felton.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.