The gates are locked at the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs after 45 years of showcasing the last days of Jesus Christ’s life with 130 actors and live animals.
Cornerstone Bank in Eureka Springs will soon own the property and intends to sell it.
A decline in attendance in the last few years led to the play’s shutdown, after its producers worked unsuccessfully to keep the long-time tradition open.
“Whether it be gas prices [or] the recession in 2008, attendance hasn’t been that great in the last 5 years. We have had a slow decline in attendance for the last 20 years, and we really thought we would be able to turn it around,” said Kent Butler, spokesperson with Elna M. Smith Foundation.
Since its inception, the Passion Play has been run by the Elna M. Smith Foundation, a non-profit organization.
The play opened in 1968 with 7.6 million visitors from all over the world.
“We wish that we could still run the Great Passion Play,” Butler said. “It’s something that’s near and dear to our hearts.”
Butler said the foundation hasn’t missed a payment on loan money from the bank, but it doesn’t have the money to continue.
Charlie Cross, CEO and president of Cornerstone Bank, said it’s an amicable agreement.
“It’s not like we are going in to seize the property,” Cross said. “We’ve been a good healthy partner with the play.”
The Great Passion Play’s property will go into foreclosure.
“Once documentation is signed, it conveys the assets to the bank and the bank becomes the owner of the property and the assets of the foundation,” Cross said.
Cross said it will affect everyone in this tourist town.
“It’s a big loss for our town. It’s a sad thing and I think economically speaking, it’s concerning,” Cross said. “Anybody that thinks the closing of the play won’t affect them economically here as a tourist destination is being pretty naive, unfortunately.”
The Christ of the Ozarks, a 67-foot tall statue, is located on the Great Passion Play’s property. For the first time in five decades, it won’t be lit for the holidays and won’t be seen up-close.
“Millions upon millions of people, even more than have seen the Great Passion Play, have seen the Christ of the Ozarks. But there’s just not enough funds to continue as we have in the past,” Butler said.
Cornerstone Bank wants to sell the 677-acre property.
“Mainly, we want to try to sell it to somebody who can do good things for Eureka Springs and help the economic viability of the town. That’s our goal,” Cross said.
Those with the Great Passion Play hope the legacy of their faith will live on forever.
“We hope that it will run in years after, that someone will feel led in their spirit to continue the ministry that we’ve done,” Butler said.
The Elna M. Smith Foundation, in a statement, thanked everyone who took part in the play since its start and the support of its community.
“Thanks to the donors who responded to our plea for help in September. Because of those gifts, we were able to complete the 2012 season,” the statement states.
Cornerstone Bank will take about three weeks to fill the paperwork to complete the process. The bank hasn’t established a cost for the property.
Click here to visit the Great Passion Play’s Facebook page.