116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Amana Colonies, long known for family-style meals and Oktoberfest, is planning an agritourism venue that could include pick-your-own produce, tree houses, corncrib slides and a beer garden.
“We want to keep growing our hospitality,” said Jeff Popenhagen, the Amana Society’s chief revenue officer.
The agritourism site, west of Highway 151 and north of Highway 220, will be adjacent to the building that housed the Old Creamery Theatre Company until earlier this year, when the professional troupe closed because of financial challenges caused by the pandemic.
The Amana Society is working to rejuvenate that theater before it becomes the Amana Performing Arts Center, which will open in May.
“Once we have the sound and lights updated, the venue will be functional and capable of hosting theater, meetings, etc.,” Amana Society President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Luerkens wrote in an email.
About the Amanas
The Amana Colonies, settled by German immigrants in 1855, is governed by the Amana Society, a corporation with businesses that include handcrafted furniture, woolens, German foods, livestock, crops and community services.
The first residents of the area called themselves the Community of True Inspiration and practiced a fully communal lifestyle until 1932, according to the National Park Service.
Tourism has been the focus in the modern-day Amanas, where visitors can pick up Iowa wine, cheese, chocolate and beer during a variety of seasonal events, including Maifest and Oktoberfest.
In October 2020, the Amana Society opened the Hotel Millwright, a 65-room boutique hotel, restaurant and conference center built into the historic textile mill. The corporation also owns a recreational vehicle park northwest of the main tourism area.
Agritourism site plans
Amana Society leaders visited several attractions in Illinois that focus on agriculture, food and outdoor fun to get ideas for their own agritourism site.
They know they won’t do apples — Wilson’s Orchard is just 30 miles east, Popenhagen noted — but would like to offer a crop people could harvest themselves. This could include sweet corn, sunflowers or maybe a communal garden.
“That food we would use in the food production for things like potato pancakes,” Popenhagen said.
Activities for kids could include a train, slides or tree houses in the timber just west of the theater, Popenhagen said. Preliminary plans call for a beer garden. There might also be tours.
The Amana Society is doing a marketing and feasibility study for the project, which likely would start with 15 to 20 acres with potential to expand to 150 acres depending on which activities they plan to develop, Luerkens said.
“Over time, the investment in the agritourism project will be significant,” he said. “We are currently working on separating the project into phases and compiling cost estimates.”
The Society’s goal is to develop a family-friendly venue that will serve the Corridor and also draw visitors from across the region.
Theater’s new life
The Amana Colonies Performing Arts Council is reaching out to area theater groups about scheduling performances for the former Old Creamery Theatre space starting this summer.
First, there is work to be done.
Volunteers already have painted the stage and the Amana Society is working with a vendor to install new lighting and sound components. The group also plans to replace the screen on the stage. These updates will cost “several thousand dollars,” Luerkens said.
“Longer-term we plan to update the exterior as it needs some work, and the parking lot needs to be repaired/updated,” he added. “The exterior on the west side of the venue has a very nice outdoor courtyard area and we’ll be cleaning that up and making it functional where it could host a wedding, graduation party or other such event.”
The theater will host the show “Weekend Comedy” by Jeanne and Sam Bobrick at 7:30 p.m. May 20 and 21. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online.
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