Chateau options remain open

January 21, 2019
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Aaron Parrish

With $1.1 million in renovations underway at Chateau Theatre, how the facility will be used remains undetermined.

“There’s some thought that there is a preconceived notion about what exactly we’d want to see in there, and I think we are open to a variety of ideas on how that space can be re-envisioned,” Rochester Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said.

The city is seeking proposals for management and operations of the historic structure, which the city purchased two years ago for $6 million.

Since then, a 12-member Chateau Theatre Reuse Task Force has offered a plan for a $23 million upgrade to create a performing arts theater that could also serve as ballroom and banquet space.

Patrick Seeb, a member of the task force, said he expects the new proposals will lead to similar uses for the next three to five years while the city continues to work toward future renovations.

“I expect any successful proposal will include some combination of uses that include private events, like weddings or corporate meetings; public ticketed events, like concerts or performances; and thirdly, public uses that are probably not big revenue generators,” said Seeb, who is also the director of economic development and placemaking for Destination Medical Center’s Economic Development Agency.

He said potential public uses could include moving Rochester Downtown Alliance’s “Movies in the Park” program indoors during winter months or hosting various guest speakers.

Members of the DMC Corp. board, which oversees state funding for the DMC initiative, have long supported the multi-use approach with a mix of activities.

“The programming of this, to me, is the most important short-term piece of this,” Board Chairman R.T. Rybak said, noting he’d like to see activities that range from “cutting edge musical acts” to book tours.

The final decision on potential proposals for operating the building will be in the hands of the Rochester City Council.

Parrish said the timeframe for a decision will depend on the number of proposals submitted, but he hopes to have a final plan in place this spring, with the doors expected to open this summer, following limited renovation efforts.

At this point, several council members have noted the primary goal is to use the space as soon as possible.

“I really want to see it become a community gathering space,” said Council Member Mark Bilderback, who was a member of the Chateau task force and said he supports the long-term recommendation.

When reviewing any proposals, Council Member Nick Campion said he will be looking at community impact, economic opportunity and viability of each plan.

“This is a chance for creative and entrepreneurial reinvigoration to breathe new life into the building,” he said.

Council Member Michael Wojcik shared similar thoughts, noting he’d place priorities on being able to offer a schedule of at least 200 uses per year with a mix of public and private events and being able to operate on a sustainable budget with an eye to future renovation and preservation.

Mayor Kim Norton also noted any successful proposal should have an eye on expenses in the coming years.

“Whatever comes forward should be a self-sustaining proposal that’s financially feasible, that can stand on its own,” she said, noting she’s looking forward to seeing what is suggested.

“I think all ideas should be welcomed, but it should activate the space,” she said. “It’s too beautiful of space to be used for storage, to be closed up or to be used only once in awhile.”

While some council members didn’t respond to a request for early thoughts on potential proposals, at least one has said maintaining city ownership isn’t a priority.

“I would like to see it move in the direction of the Old Armory/senior center,” Council Member Shaun Palmer said. “Let’s move it into private ownership.”

The Armory at 121 N. Broadway Ave. was sold to the Castle Community as the result of a similar request for proposals in 2017.

Parrish said the Chateau’s sale isn’t considered as an option with the recent request for operations and management proposals.

“We’re really looking to preserve this as a public asset,” he said, noting a future transfer to a private entity could be possible to open financing opportunities for long-term preservation efforts.

For now, he and others have said they are just waiting to see what’s presented by the Feb. 15 deadline for proposals.

“I think we will have several surprises among those who submit and those who don’t” said Rochester Park and Forestry Division Head Mike Nigbur, who is fielding questions and tour requests from people considering proposals.

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