Dec. 19, 2016 – West Bend, WI – During Monday night’s West Bend Common Council meeting an update about the downtown Business Improvement District (BID) and its timeline on removing or refurbishing the pedestrian bridge morphed into a proposal about the future of the West Bend Theatre.
David Stroik, president and CEO of Zimmerman Architectural Studios made the presentation. He outlined saving the façade of the theatre along with the iconic marquee and turning the rest into an open-air park.
“It’s not like a Western storefront but the façade of the building and the easterly 12 – 15 feet would be saved,” said Stroik.
Drawings showed the front of the theatre building intact with trees and green space visible through the door frames.
Stroik said the 3-story brick façade, which previously housed the projection room for the theatre, would help maintain the structural viability of the building; he said that space could eventually hold restrooms.
Painting a picture of the proposed design, Stroik walked through the theatre doors onto a natural grade of a terraced park with a vision of the Milwaukee River and the Museum of Wisconsin Art.
“That area could be used for anything,” said Stroik.
“We would preserve the essential part of Main Street without leaving the space like a missing tooth; keep the façade, keep the sign and encourage a performance venue and theatre activity in hopes a time would come when something could be built or it could stay like that in perpetuity.”
Lifelong West Bend resident, Claire Rolfs, has been working on the proposal with Stroik. “The beauty of it at this point is it’s not a facility that needs bookings to make a go of it,” she said. “It can just be a park.”
Rolfs said her involvement comes from her passion for the community. “I was born and raised in West Bend, I love the community and I view this as an opportunity to do something positive,” she said.
Stroik outlined the simplicity of an open-air concept compared to spending millions to renovate the existing theatre.
“The difficulty that most of the theatre spaces have is the tremendous amount of effort it takes to keep bookings and to keep the venue active,” he said. “Most theatres in small communities struggle.”
Stroik was clear “this is simply an idea at this point.” Financing for the project has yet to be secured.
Matt Prescott, who owns the building, has yet to talk publicly about the project. However, Rolfs said they’ve been working with George and Matt Prescott since September.
“They’re well aware of it and supportive,” she said. “Matt would like to see something positive done with the theatre and right now he’s not married to any specific plan.”
Questioned whether the building is structurally sound, Stroik said “rarely is an old building flawed in its structure.”
“It’s the other systems that fail, including the mechanical system, plumbing, electrical and the roof,” he said. “Plus what you’re going to do in the future with the seating, flyways, dressing rooms, and staging will be different, so the structure is a minor component.”
There have been other unsubstantiated plans for the building that also, apparently, do not restore the theatre to its original structure.
Mike Husar, president of the BID Board and owner of the building next door to the theatre, said the “most critical part of the building is the front and the marquee.”
“Are you in love with the sign or in love with the theatre,” he queried. “With the way the building is right now the cost to fully restore it is potentially $5 million versus let’s save the part that is iconic to West Bend, which is the façade and the sign, and make it functional at a reasonable cost.
“We’re not saddling the rest of the community to keep it operational and if there ever comes a point a group raises enough money to put three more walls and a roof on, then that would be a great addition,” he said.
As far as the pedestrian bridge is concerned, the proposed plan is to remove the bridge, cut down the footings and replace it with a bank-to-bank bridge, similar to the MOWA bridge to the north.
Organizers said the future park space, titled Performance Park, would eventually be donated to the city of West Bend.
The current construction estimate for the park and the bridge is about $400,000, according to Stroik.
Husar made clear “the BID cannot own property” and the BID will have nothing to do with the purchase of the building. The BID, however, is on the hook for $75,000 to remove or repair the bridge by Jan. 31, 2017.
On a history note: Matt Prescott and his business partner Erik Nordeen with Ascendant Holdings, purchased the building, 125 N. Main St., in May 2012 for $100,000.
The 2016 assessment for the property is $100,000, with taxes at $1,883.64 and $300 for the Bid Assessment.
Graphics courtesy Zimmerman Architectural Studios, Inc.