Dec. 27, 2016 – West Bend, WI – For the past three weeks http://www.washingtoncountyinsider.com has taken the lead on presenting comments, insight and a behind-the-scenes look at some investors interested in taking the downtown West Bend Theatre to the next level.
On Monday, Dec. 19 the West Bend Common Council heard details or an open-air design for the theatre. David Stroik with Zimmerman Architectural Studios presented the plan which included keeping the facade and the marquee and opening up the east side to trees and green space that would be terraced to the riverwalk.
District 1 alderman John Butschlick said he liked “the concept and the design” but he had concerns about how long the open-air park would be used. “We’re in the Midwest and weather conditions here are limiting,” he said.
District 3 alderman Mike Chevalier said he too liked the idea. “The portion where you’re keeping the history in front is key,” he said.
Chevalier mentioned he heard a group was trying to save the theatre, but he has experience in that arena and acknowledged it would be a huge undertaking.
“I’ve done a couple theatre renovations and one was the Avalon Theatre, just south of downtown Milwaukee, and it takes a lot of money to renovate it and it takes a lot of money to manage it so it’s hard, especially when there’s competition,” he said.
Chevalier joked, when he and his wife go to a movie “once every other year we go to Marcus.”
“We want better seating, more comfortable,” said Chevalier.
Comments about the historical significance of the building have been a factor in just about every conversation about the theatre, which dates to 1927.
Patricia Lutz is the executive director of The History Center of Washington County.
“The concern I’ve heard is about saving the sign (the marquee),” said Lutz. “I’ve seen other places do something similar; I was in Memphis and a historic building had done something like this – even the Kohler Art Museum saved part of the house.
“I think this, the open-air concept, would be a good answer if that’s the best answer.”
Lutz said she was unfamiliar with what the theatre looks like inside. “From what I understand that’s gone already so that would have to be a whole reproduction if anyone wanted to remodel; remembering it wouldn’t be the original,” she said.
“At least if there’s an effort to preserve as much as they can and still make it usable because it’s not going to do any good if it just keeps sitting there and it’ll just deteriorate more and more,” Lutz said.
During Stroik’s presentation he mentioned how the 3-story brick façade would be retained to help maintain the structural viability of the building. “We would preserve the essential part of Main Street without leaving the space like a missing tooth,” he said.
Lutz agreed. “It’s still a beautiful building and you want to keep that flavor downtown,” she said. “If they lose that they’re going to lose people who come downtown to eat and shop. It’s important to keep the integrity of Main Street.
“It’s easy to be the arm-chair quarterback but it all comes down to who is going to actually put in the money and actually do something with it,” she said.
On that note, keep in mind The History Center of Washington County is also facing a predicament as it is losing its funding from the county. Discussions are already underway regarding the future of The History Center in its location in the Old Courthouse on Fifth Avenue. By the way, that building is owned by the county.
As a conversation starter – although there’s been NO actual mention of what would happen to the Old Courthouse, take a look at how Priority Based Budgeting had ramifications on Annex II and the former Senior Center.
Now West Bend, where do we put our money to help preserve the history in the community?
To add more fuel to the financial fire – keep in mind, the county is looking at adding a tax to fund a $20 million – $40 million Highway 60 reliever route project. The state has refused to fund any of the project which means it will land completely on the shoulders of local taxpayers. More details on that proposal will be released during a public meeting January 24.
Photo of the Avalon courtesy Milwaukee Magazine. Old Courthouse photo courtesy The History Center of Washington County.