Time for a Downtown Entertainment District: Part III

Denis Gullickson

denis gullickson | talking titletwon | march 2018

Part Three of an Expanded Three-Part Series

The charming character of this historic building at 109 North Adams Street, once a funeral home and part of the Schauer and Schumacher Furniture Store complex, would lend itself wonderfully as the part of an arts and performance facility in Green Bay's downtown core. Denis Gullickson photo.Money and Timing – the keys to turning the city-owned Schauer and Schumacher buildings into a vibrant arts and performance facility and a launching point for a resurgent entertainment district in Green Bay's downtown core.

Over the last two issues we've laid out a plan for this former furniture store complex in terms of physical design and programming. We've also justified such a project – outlining how it would dovetail with the current efforts of the many hard-working arts and performance individuals, groups and organizations toiling across Northeast Wisconsin.

This month, points on how such a facility would support the various area arts and performance venues and the presentation of an admittedly-ambitious funding package and timeline for making it all happen.

Thanks to those who have offered input into this project. It started with one person asking for assurance that the visual arts would be conspicuously represented at such a facility (indeed they will). Others wondered how dedicated the Green Bay Theatre Company was to preserving the legacy of the buildings (extremely) and whether our area had the market to support such a facility (it does).

Also, some clarification regarding the former Vic Theater building – mere steps away from the Schauer and Schumacher buildings – which is part of a larger plan for a downtown entertainment district downtown.

The former Vic is privately owned and the current asking price is more than twice its current assessed value of $281,900. While its owner sees the alterations as assets, they are mostly liabilities when it comes to restoring the building to a theater. Its physical conversion to a dance club has taken it well away from its original design as a theater and a recent, albeit-high-end estimate put a “gut and restore" undertaking somewhere north of $3 million.

Much has to happen (and can, with the right plan) before the Vic returns to its preeminence as “Green Bay's First Theater." Still, its redesign into a 500-seat theater would position if perfectly for use by local performance groups in Titletown's contemporary pantheon of performance halls.

For the time being, the Vic will have to simmer on a back burner while it continues to stew as “Confettis" – open on weekends to loud music, keg parties, gesticulating bodies and restroom selfies.

At some future point – when the proposed arts and performance facility is up and successfully running two doors down – a separate effort could muster the purchase price of somewhere between its current estimated value and the last-known asking price of “way-too-much." Additionally – depending on whether the goal is to completely restore or simply modernize the theater – another $1-3.2 million might be required.

Total price tag for the Vic: $1.78 to $3.76 million. Flame on “low" for the time being.

That Performance Pantheon

Scattered across this city today are numerous quality venues – though only the Meyer Theater operates in the downtown core.

The Weidner Center hosts great entertainment – way out there at UWGB, also home to a couple of school theaters. The brand new Ashwaubenon PAC is a beautiful, state-of-the-art addition near the stadium district. Main Street's Riverside Ballroom owns a rich legacy. The Green Bay Community Theater performs admirably at the Brault Theater on Chestnut Street.

Several top-notch theater groups in our area – Evergreen and Play-by-Play, for instance – make great use of St. Norbert's two stages in De Pere, long-time home to Birder Productions, now operating mostly out of the Broadway Theater on that city's east side.

Shoutouts, too, to some extraordinary high school theaters in our area – including those at East and West High Schools and many surrounding districts – where surprisingly high-quality productions can be found throughout the school year.

It was early in the discussion of this project, that a GBTC board member with much involvement in the earliest days of the Meyer Theater regeneration said, “the problem in Green Bay is all of these theaters and theater groups are 'compartmentalized.' You have the folks who participate in this theater group or go to this theater, but not the others. It's as though everyone is working in isolation."

During the three-dozen-plus interviews conducted by this writer while gathering information for the current proposal, one well-known veteran actor in this town underscored that sentiment, suggesting that everyone would benefit from the “collaboration and cross-pollination" of a common facility.

According to these two experts and others – rather than threaten the success of these area venues – a centralized facility such as the one proposed for the Schauer and Schumacher facility bolsters and promotes them. It grows the raw number, diversity and collaboration of the participants in arts and performance endeavors and increases the use, patronage and other forms of support for area venues accordingly.

This conclusion has been echoed by several of the very proprietors of those other venues.

A similar result can be realized for the many galleries where visual art is featured.

Money and Next Steps

The current fair market value of the Schauer and Schumacher complex is $97,800. Its assessed value is $417,000. Per its latest Request for Proposals, the city will turn over the former Schauer and Schumacher buildings to the right developer without cost – provided the party can demonstrate the right vision, credentials and funding and operating plan.

The city's 36-point rubric breaks out as follows: Investment-16 points based on concept/design, proposed re-use and tenancy, expenses and tax base. Capacity-8 points based on completion timetable and ability. Financials-4 points based on funding. Experience-8 points based on marketing and previous projects.

While the GBTC is hardly a well-heeled, experienced developer, its vision for putting these historic buildings back in use as an arts and performance center makes the most sense – probably why it was the only proposal submitted, to this writer's knowledge.

The reason is fairly easy to grasp: addressing the many physical needs of the two buildings in order to get them to a baseline – “deconstruction" – and then adding the projected amenities – “reconstruction" – is too expensive for the housing, small retail and dining plans presented to date.

Installing housing units in an existing building alone involve exorbitant remodeling as well as electrical, HVAC and sewer and water installations. Retail and restaurant come with their own pricey demands.

Instead, the wide-open spaces of the former furniture store invites the GBTC's proposed use as black box theater, studio and rehearsal space, classrooms, offices, meeting rooms and the like with far-less reconstruction at a far-lower price tag. The estimate for getting the facility up and functioning as proposed is $1.5 million – a far cry from previous estimates for housing, small retail and dining of upwards of $4 million.

Opening the doors of the Schauer and Schumacher facility by June 1, 2019 – even partially and under whatever name a lead donor wants to hang on it – is an ambitious goal. By the way, that's a Saturday! It's a goal prompted by the fact that – if it can be done – a potential paying renter of about 15-20 percent of the available space is, perhaps, locked in.

Working backward from that date by quarters, here's a rough timeline of major developments that must (and can) occur:

1st quarter, 2018: Recontact developer, architect, financial institutions and other consultants. Submit pro forma statements to city's Economic Development Department to complete GBTC proposal. Move forward to the RDA agenda for a presentation on March 13. Develop contingency plan for deconstruction-reconstruction in phases, if necessary. Identify key donors.

2nd quarter, 2018: Execute a plan for approaching donors and secure funding commitments for initial deconstruction-reconstruction phase. Secure and present physical plans for deconstruction-reconstruction. Sign and secure all related contractual relationships for funding and deconstruction-reconstruction. Reconnect with individuals, groups and organizations representing original stakeholders.

3rd quarter, 2018: Develop job descriptions and interview and hire facility manager and outreach and development director. Begin deconstruction-reconstruction according to plan. Continue to develop programming and secure renter and user commitments.

4th quarter, 2018: Conclude deconstruction-reconstruction. Establish and implement an endowment and ongoing development plan. Secure written commitments from renters, other users and first-year programming.

1st quarter, 2019: Conclude all phases of project. Position for first-day operations.

2nd quarter, 2019: Unveil the facility with Grand Opening Festivities June 1-2.

Obviously, hurdles will emerge between now and then – part of the challenge.

Whatever name goes on the building and whatever additional names and “In Memoriams" go on various rooms, chairs, bricks and other accouterments are fine with the GBTC. That's how these things get done.

Now … we invite everyone's participation and support for bringing our vision for a downtown arts and entertainment center alive.

Contact educator, author, farmer and horseman Denis Gullickson with your ideas on a downtown entertainment district and the Schauer and Schumacher buildings' central role in it at gbtheatrecompany@aol.com. And thanks to those of you who have already done so.

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