Is it finally showtime for the Chateau?
The task force responsible for the Chateau Theatre took a significant step forward Monday in supporting a motion to begin making initial renovations to the building so it can be used for performances, meetings and other events while city officials work out a long-term plan for the historic venue.
"Interim use will give the community access to this extraordinary space quickly," said Patrick Seeb, director of economic development and placemaking for Destination Medical Center. "And it will set us up for successful long-term activation."
The building, which has sat empty since Barnes and Nobles moved out of the space, has been the subject of ongoing discussion ever since the city announced intentions to purchase the theater in March 2015.
A $23 million plan to renovate the theater into a multi-use performing arts center was presented to the Rochester City Council in 2016. However, the proposal was met with some hesitation. While councilors were generally supportive of the plan, they raised questions about the management of the venue and whether there were other funds available to help with the cost.
Since that time, city leaders have begun exploring less capital intensive options for restoring the building, while also looking at alternative funding sources, such as historic tax credits. They have also been in contact with adjacent property owners — notably the new owners of the Wells Fargo building — regarding ways to potentially work together.
But at Monday's meeting, task force members acknowledged there is some frustration in the community with the lack of progress on the Chateau. In their recommendation, they voiced their desire to invest in improvements that would activate the space now — and also contribute to the long-term development and preservation of the building.
"I think this could reduce the timeline and reduce the urgency of getting this facility up and and running," said task force member John Kruesel.
Under the plan presented to the task force, the Chateau would undergo renovations consistent with the future use of the building. Those include upgrades to the roof and bathrooms, removal of the escalators and other basic improvements to bring the building up to code.
Once complete, the theater — under its interim use — would be able to hold up to 390 people for things like musical performances and lunch meetings.
"This is a very rational approach," said task force member Jane Bisel, adding that she would like to see a portion of the revenue generated from events go toward the long-term renovation plan. "It makes economic sense, and is a good way to give visitors and the community a taste of what’s to come."
Among those eyeing the space for future events is community organizer Sunny Prabhakar. Last year, he put in a request to use the Chateau for his popular Elysium music series but was turned away. He said he is excited to see how the building will be updated to accommodate interim uses.
"Rochester is currently facing a shortage of venue spaces in this capacity range and, potentially, this could be a unique solution while the city works on the long-term vision for the space," said Prabhakar.
The Destination Medical Center Corporation Board is expected to take up the proposal, which carries an $887,000 price tag, at its meeting this Thursday. If all goes to plan, the theater could begin hosting events by year's end.
As for the Chateau task force, they pledged to stay involved with the process as long as it takes to fulfill their ultimate objective. “By doing this interim [use], it doesn’t mean we’re done," said Mayor Ardell Brede.
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Cover photo: Chateau Theatre / Med City Beat