denis gullickson | talking titletown | july 2018
At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, June 12 – following the recommendation of the city's Economic Development Department – the City of Green Bay Redevelopment Authority granted a six month planning option to the Green Bay Theatre Company (GBTC) for the former Schauer and Schumacher buildings.
The intention of the GBTC is to convert the former furniture store complex into a vibrant, working arts and performance facility open to and utilized by area artists and performers.
Regular readers of this column will recall that, over the winter, this writer inked a series of columns calling for and delineating a plan for a full-fledged, downtown Arts and Entertainment District with the Meyer Theater as its flagship.
Those columns also described the programming planned for the facility proposed for the Schauer and Schumacher buildings based on interviews with at least three dozen individuals, groups and organizations involved in our area's visual arts and performance communities.
The series also suggested that a part of the plan, down the road some, was refurbishing the former Vic Theater into a 500-seat performance venue.
Put Your Name on It
And so, the real work begins. Exciting. Daunting. Rewarding. At long last, the task of turning a dream into a functioning reality is at hand. Deadlines? All necessary strategic steps identified and underway by September 12. Deconstruction and reconstruction well underway by December 12. Ready for operations by May 1, 2019. Ribbon cutting, celebration and facility open and by June 1, 2019.
And when it's all done, what lives and breathes in a couple of historic downtown buildings that have sat idle for more than a decade is an incubator for the arts and performance in the Green Bay area.
Planned features include a 200-seat-proscenium theater and a 50-seat-blackbox theater, ample rehearsal and studio space, class and meeting rooms and related amenities in a facility that is inviting, inclusive and buzzing all hours of the day.
All of this accomplished while enhancing the historic architecture of the buildings and pumping new life into a once-hopping downtown locale – helping bring more folks downtown and supporting nearby businesses.
While we are still costing the facility, the final price tag will probably be somewhere between $2-$2.5 million dollars. Soon we will be looking for the right individual, family, business or other organization to put their name on the gorgeous art-deco theater marquis on East Walnut Street – in essence, putting their name on the entire facility as in the “X-Y-Z Arts and Performance Center."
Additionally, we will be naming the two theaters in honor of the individuals, families or businesses or other organizations that support their design and construction. Further, we will be seeking contributing partners for other rooms, resources and other amenities throughout the facility.
If you are reading this and believe – as we do – that it is time for the arts and performance communities to have a firm foothold in Green Bay's downtown core and that a facility such as this can serve as the springboard for a thriving, dynamic entertainment district in a resurgent downtown, then we want to hear from you.
If you are in a financial position to support the facility or know of someone who is, we want to partner with you. While we have a very solid plan in place, if you have input into the design and programming for this facility, get in touch.
Making this facility be all that we have envisioned will be a matter of networking, relationship-building and partnering. What the facility will eventually grow into as a result of the synergy created will likely be beyond anyone's wildest dream.
Up and Running
So, the doors of this arts and performance center will open on Saturday, June 1, 2019. A grand celebration that day will unveil a real-life glimpse of just what is in store as the facility assumes a central role in the downtown core: live entertainment, demonstrations, promotions, instruction, exhibitions and the like.
On any given day afterward, the facility's Adams Street building will see early-morning meetings, mid-day presentations, visits to its various displays, confabs between local philosophers, networking between artists and performers and classes taught by instructors in film, painting, acting, dance, and the like.
Regular features in the Walnut Street building will include live music, local theater, stand-up comedy, monthly cabarets, foreign and classic films as well as movies by local filmmakers. The large display windows will promote all things Green Bay and Green Bay arts and performance. The work of local fashion designers will be prominently presented, as will works by visual artists of all genres.
Particularly in the summer, the facility will be wide open from morning until late at night. Visitors to the downtown area, folks strolling along the City Deck, residents of downtown apartments, passengers on Great Lakes cruise ships will all have access to any number of activities at the facility at all hours.
The building will be accessible and inviting. It will play a central role during ArtStreet, downtown Farmers Markets, holiday celebrations and so on. It will also promote all other performance venues in the Green Bay area. It will serve as a hub and a resource for connecting performers and technical personnel with productions and productions with performers and technical personnel.
Its rehearsal space will have the capacity to replicate the stage and other facilities of every other performance venue in the area. Area theater companies will be able to set up for the 4-6-week rehearsal period without conflict.
All of this and much more lies ahead for this working arts and performance facility.
Sitting on the back burner, don't forget, is that Vic Theater, just two doors down, and waiting to be converted into a 500-seat performance venue with a few additional amenities for local groups – a logical next step and next piece in an expanding downtown entertainment district.
This amazing opportunity didn't happen overnight, nor did it happen because of any one individual.
Thanks to the three dozen or so individuals, groups and organizations that offered input over the past year including street performers, dance companies, theater troupes, managers of other performance venues, representatives of Green Bay and surrounding school districts and on and on and on.
Thanks to the current Board of Directors of the Green Bay Theatre Company: David Cook, Technical Director for the UWGB music and theater departments; Ellen “Odge" Gullickson, accountant and office manager at Team Apparel; Rachel Gullickson, women's clothing purveyor, local actress, performer, instructor, director, choreographer and world-class daughter; Frank Hermans, Mr. Entertainment and Charitable Contributor of Northeast Wisconsin as well as president, producer and lead funny man of Let Me Be Frank Productions; Steve Kaplan, distinguished attorney with Fredrikson and Byron of Minneapolis; John Mitchell, writer, producer and filmmaker of “Cheeseheads: The Documentary" and numerous other creative endeavors; Michael O'Malley; actor with Let Me Be Frank Productions and other organizations, teacher of acting; Redebra Peters, former banker, theater instructor and current community outreach professional for Aspiro; Linda Thill, former director of the Green Bay Girls Choir and music and performance instructor.
Those directors will be joined by five other high-powered individuals over the next few months with the management of this arts and performance facility in mind.
Thanks to the excellent people in the Green Bay Economic Development Department, whom we consider an essential partner in the success of this facility. Namely, Wendy Townsend, Ken Rovinski, Matt Buchanon and their captain, Kevin Vonck.
Thanks as well to Mayor Jim Schmitt. Whatever controversies might have arisen during his tenure, no one but no one can question his love for the City of Green Bay and his ardent desire to see Green Bay become everything it can. Thanks, also, to Alder Randy Scannell for his guidance and support and for agreeing to do the first prose/poetry reading near the fireplace in the Adams Street building.
Finally, thanks to area developer Paul Belschner, President and CEO of the Base Companies and Joash Smits, Director of Development of the same. Appropriately cautious when we first presented this project to Paul, he eventually concluded that our proposed facility was probably the best-possible fit for these dormant buildings and the answer to a key missing piece in the arts and performance culture of our community. We are excited to be working with you.
Thanks as well to historic preservation expert Mark Buechel and architect Brad Kropp for their guidance going forward.
Now … on with the task at hand.
Talk about downtown fireworks! July, 2018 finds author, educator, farmer, historian and horseman Denis Gullickson full-bore into baling hay, getting high school students graduated and off to college, and working with the board of directors of the Green Bay Theatre Company in the design and construction of the downtown arts and performance center described in this article. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts, ideas and contributions.