Chateau draws interest

February 3, 2019

With two weeks remaining to submit proposals for the operation and management of the historic Chateau Theatre, ideas are percolating.

At least two groups have committed to submitting a proposal to take on operations for three to five years, according to conversations during Thursday’s pre-proposal meeting at the theater.

“Think the Dakota meets Chanhassen,” said Misha Johnson, co-founder of Immersion Youth Repertory.

Looking for a venue to hold events, Johnson discovered the city’s request for proposals, which led her and other Rochester residents to form the Arts Trust of Minnesota as a nonprofit to submit a proposal.

While details remain in the works, Johnson showed up to Thursday’s event with at least eight people in tow to tour the theater and compare notes on potential design, historic preservation concerns and options for using the space.

While she hopes it will be a home base for Immersion performances and other events, she said she also wants to create a space for other arts groups.

“We want to be a nucleus that arts organizations can circle around,” she said, noting the trust’s proposal will also provide options for private events, such as weddings or corporate meetings.

“The only way to make the space functional is to offer a variety of uses,” she said.

Past Castle proposal

Sankesh “Sunny” Prabhakar said the same thing. The Rochester resident is working with Minneapolis-based Entourage Events Group and Fine Line Cafe on a proposal that would provide multiple uses for the space.

Like Johnson, Prabhakar said it’s too early to lay out details, but he noted the plan will likely include elements from Entourage’s 2017 proposal for re-use of the former Armory building.

At the time, the proposal to renovate the former senior center into a music and event venue was among the top contenders before the council opted to sell the building to the Castle Community.

Prabhakar said the Entourage group is hoping to offer an element of the previous proposal that seemed to excite council members in 2017. The group planned to offer free space monthly for nonprofit events.

“We’re going to try to work through a way to do that,” he said.

While the two groups indicated definite plans to submit proposals by the Feb. 15 deadline, others among the 40 or so people at Thursday’s pre-proposal event declined to say whether they were actively considering a proposal.

The event drew veteran Minneapolis music promoter Nate Kranz, but the First Avenue general manager said he was merely looking at the building as a possible future music venue, if it becomes available for booking performances.

“It’s nice to get your eyes on the building,” he said, noting his company is always looking for potential venues to rent.

While First Avenue works with Entourage to host private events, Kranz said he is not part of the effort Prabhakar is helping spearhead.

‘More possibilities than I thought’

Another participant who was on scene to look at performance opportunities was Debi Neville of the Rochester Arts and Cultural Collaborative. While her group submitted a proposal for the Armory in 2017, she said the collaborative is taking a support role this time.

“It will be interesting to see how many projects will be presented,” she said, noting Thursday offered her a chance to see nooks and crannies in the theater that could help facilitate a variety of events.

“It actually has more possibilities than I thought,” she said.

At the same time, Rochester Park and Forestry Division Head Mike Nigbur, who provided tours Thursday, said some aspects of the building have raised concerns for potential proposals.

The limited number of restrooms and defined exits will limit capacity for events to 390 people, even though the floor space could handle more.

Additionally, Nigbur said some people have questioned the decision to remove the second floor, which was added when the former theater was converted into a bookstore. With an escalator that doesn’t work properly and the lack of proper exits, he said the city made the decision to remove most of the second floor to make way for immediate use as plans continue for a long-term use, which could include implementing a $23 million renovation plan proposed by the Chateau Theatre Reuse Task Force in 2017.

For now, Nigbur said proposals will be for operations to cover the next three to five years as funding options and other issues are considered.

He said he expects proposals to find ways to work with existing conditions.

“It’s their creativity that can solve these problems,” he said.

Prior to Thursday’s event, Nigbur said, he had given seven or eight tours to people considering proposals. Some continue to suggest they are moving forward and others have indicated they will not present plans, he said.

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