The future of the historic but vacant Chateau Theatre in downtown Rochester got a bit clearer last week as city officials moved toward reopening it as a performing arts and social gathering space.
The move, which includes launching a search for a consultant to guide the theater’s resurrection, comes after months of tedious negotiations and paperwork delays as the city sought to buy the 89-year-old structure from its private owner.
“It seems slow at times, but we’re taking steps,” said Mayor Ardell Brede, who envisions a late 2017 grand opening for the renovated theater.
The decision brings some relief to city arts groups, who viewed it as something of a no-brainer that Rochester needs more performing arts spaces, said Stephen Troutman, of the Rochester Arts and Cultural Collaborative. His group first pitched the idea of remaking the Chateau into a mixed-used theater and gathering space more than two years ago.
The Chateau, built in 1927 by the founders of the Mayo Clinic, was home to theater, vaudeville acts and movies before it was converted into a Barnes & Noble bookstore in the 1980s. The bookstore closed at the end of 2014.
Its closure came just as Rochester ramped up plans for Destination Medical Center, a massive, multibillion-dollar project that aims to make the city a global destination for medical research, innovation and health care, with the Mayo Clinic as the driving force. The 20-year plan began in 2013.
The Chateau property drew immediate attention because of its location: The theater anchors one corner of a downtown pedestrian mall known as Peace Plaza. At the other end sits the Mayo Clinic.
It’s also become something of a pet project for Brede, who easily slips into remembrances of the theater as the spot where he saw movies growing up. His first date with his wife was at the Chateau.
The city’s Chateau Theatre Reuse Task Force this week made plans to issue a request for proposals to consultants who have experience renovating historic properties.
The consultant would help the city determine reasonable uses for the property and help city officials understand the constraints of the building’s footprint, according to minutes of the task force meeting.
The RFP will not address renovation or construction costs. Brede said it’s too early to know the cost, but he pointed to the $22.3 million renovation of Duluth’s NorShor Theatre, saying the Chateau is in better shape than the NorShor was before renovations began.
Brede said he would like to explore the possibility of installing a hydraulic floor that could easily convert from flat, for social gatherings, to sloped, for performances. Such a floor would allow the theater to quickly transition between events. Brede envisions a typical day possibly including a medical conference in the morning, a piano recital in the afternoon and a film in the evening. The new Chateau would likely seat 500 to 800 people, Brede said.
An online survey and an open house are likely sometime in May, said Brede, as city officials gather more public input.
A 2012 survey known as the About You Community Asset Inventory found residents complaining about the lack of affordable indoor space for gatherings, cultural events or performances.
Asked about the need for more performing arts space in Rochester, Troutman characterized it this way: “Lots!”