The Chateau Theatre, 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 last year, and no future use has been designated.
Mayor Ardell Brede said the city could have it for $6 million, a price that doesn’t include whatever renovations may be necessary. Nothing has been signed yet, but the City Council is expected to take up the sale at their April 6 meeting.
The Mayo Clinic has pledged to help pay for it with a $500,000 gift, Brede said.
That the city was even considering the Chateau came as a happy surprise to Rochester arts groups, some of which were acting collectively to find a new use for the theater when they learned that it would go on the market.
“We’re tickled pink that it’s going to be bought by the city,” said Stephen Troutman, a member of the Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative, a citizen group created last fall. The group met several times and discussed their hopes for the Chateau, but couldn’t come up with a working plan to buy it themselves, he said.
If the city buys the theater, Brede said, it falls neatly into the massive economic development plan known as Destination Medical Center, a $6 billion, 20-year redo of downtown with the goal of making Rochester a destination in its own right.
The plan comes with $585 million in taxpayer funds approved by the Legislature last year.
That money doesn’t become available until the Mayo Clinic and Rochester both spend money on redevelopment, and Brede said he expects the Chateau deal could count as a part of the city’s contribution toward DMC.
Still intact are the theater’s iconic decorations, including turrets and a castle wall that framed the movie screen. Brede said his granddaughter thought it looked like the setting for “Beauty and the Beast.”
A second floor was installed by Barnes & Noble, but it didn’t get anchored to the sidewalls, perhaps making it easier to demolish, said Brede.
The Chateau’s owner, Dowel-Lieberman of Morristown, N.J., could not be reached for comment.
County land records say the land is valued at $861,200 and the building at $2,758,100.
The building’s original construction cost of $400,000 would be about $5.4 million in today’s dollars, if adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index.
Downtown Rochester land values have generally climbed over the past year as investors snap up properties that could become central to the DMC initiative.
So far there’s been minimal grousing about the Chateau’s cost, said Dave Beal, a member of the Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative.
“Everyone just thinks it’s a great move on the part of the city,” he said.
Mary Ellen Landwehr, another collaborative member, said she sees a future for the Chateau as a multiuse space with performances, film nights and Mayo presentations.
It once housed a 1,500-seat theater, but arts groups would prefer something in the 300- to 500-seat range, she said.
The Art Deco-designed theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, closing three years later. It sat vacant for 11 years before Barnes & Noble moved in. It sits on the block immediately adjacent to the Mayo Clinic.