Theater Search

Consultant’s report released on
search for downtown theater site

Options include a theater,
art gallery, visitors center

By Laura Hodges
Contributing Writer

(October 2010) – A study has been completed of 10 downtown Madison, Ind., buildings for potential use as venues for live performances, art displays, classes and visitor services.
Specific recommendations are part of a report which has just been released by Madison-based consulting firm Woodburn, Kyle & Co. Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong initiated the study. Its $3,000 cost was paid by Economic Development Partners, the city’s non-profit economic development agency.

Union Brewery-Wesbecker

Photo by Don Ward

The Union Brewery-Wesbecker
Building at 602 W. Main St. is among
the buildings studied for use as a
possible theater in downtown Madison.

EDP’s interest, according to Executive Director Corey Murphy, is in developing a center that will serve visitors to the city as well as locals. For that reason, all the 10 sites investigated were downtown.
“If you look at Madison from a visitor attraction and development viewpoint, downtown is the place to be,” said Murphy.
Peter Woodburn, CEO of Woodburn, Kyle & Co., secured the services of consultant Bruce Marquis of Bloomington, Ill., to conduct the three-day assessment of several public and privately owned buildings. With a background in theater management, Marquis specializes in arts consulting. He visited Madison on Aug. 18-20 to inspect the buildings that have been suggested for possible conversion.
Small Theater: Marquis reported that four buildings were suitable for a small theater of 100 to 130 seats. “One, the Union Brewery-Wesbecker Building (602 W. Main St.), offers the most potential due to its location, access, and range of available spaces,” said the report. He cited its good location, visibility and access. The one-level building offers space for offices, rehearsals and teaching space, as well as room for a theater and scenery construction and storage. One drawback to the Wesbecker Building is its damp basement.
Other possibilities for a small theater, in order of their potential, are the Good Samaritan Building at 211 E. Main St., the city-owned garage at 118 W. Second St. and Eggleston Elementary School at 419 East St.
Large Theater: For a larger theater of 400 to 600 seats, Marquis’ first choice would be the Ohio Theatre, 105 E. Main St. Other possibilities are the Lanier-Madison Visitor Center gymnasium at 601 W. First St. and Brown Memorial Gymnasium on Broadway. Marquis cautioned however, that all three structures have significant structural issues or other problems that make it “questionable” whether they could be converted into a large theater.
Visual Arts Gallery: Marquis found three plausible locations that offer 2,000-plus square feet of open space plus ceilings at least 10 feet high, making them suitable for a visual arts gallery. His first choice is the Good Samaritan Building. He noted that the first floor sanctuary could be used as an art gallery, while the two large second floor spaces could be art classrooms. There is storage room in the basement. His second and third choices were the Union Brewery-Wesbecker Building and the city-owned garage.
Arts Education-Activity Center: Eggleston Elementary School was Marquis’ preferred location for arts education, because of its ample spaces and adjacent parking. The building has handicapped-accessibility issues, he noted. Other suitable places include the Union Brewery-Wesbecker Building and the Good Samaritan Building.
Downtown Visitor Center: Marquis picked the Madison Senior Center as the best of those he toured for use as a visitors center. He noted its good location, high visibility and access, with a public parking lot 100 feet away. Other suitable sites would be the Union Brewery-Wesbecker Building and the Good Samaritan Building. The Lanier-Madison Visitors Center is currently located in a state-owned building at 601 W. First St.
Two of the buildings that Marquis inspected and evaluated were not considered optimal for any of these five uses. They were the former Eagle Cotton Mill, owned by developer Bod Przewlocki, at 108 St. Michael St. and the Myers-Lytle Building at 307 Jefferson St. The latter is the site of the former Jefferson Street Antique Mall.
Murphy said the study does not set the city on any particular course of action. For example, it doesn’t address whether development should be private or public, or whether these uses are needed at all. “I need to share it (the report) with the board and then see what’s the next step,” said Murphy.
Woodburn said that for several years, “People who want theater are looking for places. The mayor didn’t want always to be saying ‘no’ to somebody.” The mayor also wanted to see if some of the potential venues could be eliminated from the discussion.
“What EDP and the city have is a document for planning purposes. There apparently is a need for a performing center of some sort,” said Woodburn.
Marquis noted in his report, “This study only examined the potential of buildings to accommodate new uses. It did not address community demand for new or expanded facilities of services. Marquis Arts Consulting would suggest the city conduct a study to assess community and visitor interest and potential demand prior to developing new facilities.”

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