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SPEARFISH - At least one local entity is already feeling the effects of the first summer season without the city's mainstay tourist attraction, the Black Hills Passion Play.

Spearfish Center for the Arts and Humanities executive director Debora Smoot asked Spearfish City Council members last week for assistance in developing mini film festivals proposed throughout the summer months.

Smoot asked for a $13,000 grant to help secure a screen, projector and DVD player, with the remainder of the $26,000 cost met by the arts council and in-kind donations.

She explained that tour companies are looking for an evening activity, and the arts council is trying to fill the void left by the closing of the historic Passion Play and keep those tours in Spearfish overnight. The Passion Play ended last summer after members of the founding Meier family retired after almost 70 years of depicting the last seven days of Christ.

"We have a major amount of tour buses planning on being here. The problem is, the Passion Play no longer exists. We are unable to schedule live community theater productions because people have such busy lives. Our volunteers and board have struggled with this."

Smoot said films are the leading option because the Matthews Opera House, as the Princess Theater, hosted motion pictures during the 1920s.

Councilman Eric Davis expressed his hesitancy in giving approval. "We denied several very valid requests last August, and now we'd say we have the money for this? And now we have snow removal costs, too."

The council delayed acting on the request until its next meeting. Members encouraged Smoot in the meantime to contact Visit Spearfish, the newly formed destination and marketing organization for the city, and city manager Greg Sund about other possible financing avenues for the project.

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