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City staff endorses exhibits group for interim use of the Chateau Theatre

City staff endorses exhibits group for interim use of the Chateau Theatre

City administration is recommending a proposal from Exhibits Development Group for the interim reuse of the Chateau Theatre.

On Thursday, the city sent out letters to the three finalists informing them of its recommendation. The other two contenders being considered for the Chateau are Arts Trust of Minnesota and Entourage Events Group.

The staff recommendation comes days ahead of a meeting in which members of the Rochester City Council are expected to vote on which direction to head in. The council can either select one of the three proposals, or move on from the process and start from square one.

Both the city council and Destination Medical Center Corporation Board have already authorized $1.1 million in initial improvements to the building. Those renovations, now under way, are expected to be complete in June. All three groups are asking for additional city funding to get the building up and running. The requests range from $230,000 to $400,000.

EDG’s plan for the Chateau

As we reported in April, the EDG proposal calls for using the Chateau to host traveling exhibitions of art, science, history and popular culture.

The St. Paul-based organization believes it could activate the space year-round — and has set a goal of drawing at least 120,000 visitors annually.

The $230,000 it is requesting from the city would go toward upgrading the electrical system and lighting, along with other renovations to the building.

EDG says potential exhibitions could include “Beyond Rubik’s Cube” and “Magical History Tour: A Beatles Memorabilia Exhibition.” To generate activity, the group would program school field trips and adult nights.

The Chateau, under their plan, would also feature a café and lounge.

The other two proposals, from the Arts Trust and Entourage, envision the space being used primarily for events. (Read summaries of all three.)

Reasoning behind recommendation

City staff said all three groups provided “unique and compelling plans for the initial operations and management of the Chateau Theatre.”

However, based on the criteria laid out in a request for proposals from the city, which called for creating “a vibrant entertainment, education, and cultural hub,” they felt the EDG proposal was most compatible.

First, by opening the building 360 days a year from morning til evening, “EDG provides the highest level of activation for the space,” according to the recommendation from the city. Second, city administration said the proposal “is unlike anything else in the Rochester community.”

They also noted that EDG has a proven track record of financial sustainability and that the organization “has shown a strong commitment to working with local partners.”

Just sell it?

Council Member Shaun Palmer raised eyebrows at a special meeting on the Chateau last week. He suggested the council should considering selling the theater, which the city purchased in 2016 for $6 million.

That is what the city did with the historic Armory building, now home to the Castle Community project. After putting out an RFP, in which the city would retain ownership, the council ultimately decided not to move forward with a proposal, and instead put out a second RFP.

That led to an agreement with the Castle group to purchase the building. The former Armory now features a bookstore, restaurant and concert hall.

With the Chateau, however, the situation is a bit different. The city paid — some say overpaid — a good chuck of change to purchase the building. The goal since then has been to restore it as a public asset — and it seems unlikely the city would change course this late in the game.

That said, the option to part ways with the building is still on the table.

The council is set to meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 6 at City Hall. If a proposal is chosen, it would go before the DMC board on June 3.

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Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date of the council meeting.

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