Business

New Olympic South Side theater in NewBo aims to revive city's past

Eric Engelmann, founder and executive director of the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative, and Anna Hobart, manager of the new venue space, on Tuesday talk about plans for the new Olympic South Side Theater on the second floor, 1202 Third St. SE, in Cedar Rapids’ NewBo area. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Eric Engelmann, founder and executive director of the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative, and Anna Hobart, manager of the new venue space, on Tuesday talk about plans for the new Olympic South Side Theater on the second floor, 1202 Third St. SE, in Cedar Rapids’ NewBo area. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Two Cedar Rapids investors are transforming some vacant space in the New Bohemia District into what they hope will become an event venue that evokes the city’s past.

Renovations are underway on the Olympic South Side Theater, which boasts a raised stage and mezzanine balcony on the second floor of the Zapadni Ceska Bratrska Jednota, or ZCBJ, building, at the corner of Third Street SE and 12th Avenue SE.

Weddings, corporate gatherings and live entertainment are among possible uses for the 12,000-square-foot theater, which will have seating capacity for around 300 people and standing room for up to 600, plus a cocktail lounge for up to 50 people.

Eric Engelmann, founder of Geonetric, the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative and the Iowa Startup Accelerator, said he and Steve Shriver, co-founder of Eco Lips, Brewhemia and SOKO Outfitters, began planning the project in earnest about three months ago.

“This gem of a space is such a valuable asset in our community,” Engelmann said in a Thursday release. “There are not many venues in the Corridor with its size, historic character and location. We are excited to add another vibrant option to the New Bohemia District.”

The former theater has “a heritage of helping to build the community,” Engelmann says, that he hopes will live on through the new Olympic South Side Theater, including support for area businesses and entrepreneurship.

“We see opportunities for award ceremonies, corporate meetings, keynote addresses for conferences and even indoor markets,” he said.

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The theater’s name hearkens back to the Olympic Theatre, built across Third Street SE by the Scolaro family in 1912, during a local boom in silent movie theaters. The theater underwent multiple name changes and screened westerns and comedies until 1953. The following year, it became home to then-Cedar Rapids Community Theatre.

“It’s important for the neighborhood to embrace the past while we build the future,” Shriver said Thursday. “The Olympic’s name honors our roots as we push forward.”

The space most recently was home to the Third Street Live entertainment venue, above a former Chrome Horse Saloon, before a 2014 fire caused significant smoke, heat and fire damage to the building’s first and second floors.

Though Brewhemia, Caucho and HBK Engineering later became first-floor tenants, the second floor remained vacant in the intervening five years.

Engelmann said the new theater will reflect a 1920s aesthetic, with the original tin ceiling, interior brick and decorative columns salvaged and incorporated into the design.

Anna Hobart, who manages Molly’s Cupcakes in Des Moines, will serve as venue manager for the Olympic theater.

“It makes my day when I can help guests bring their event to life,” she said Thursday. “The Olympic is so beautiful and unexpected. There’s a true moment of awe when you climb the stairs and come out into this open space with large windows and incredible light.”

Construction will be handled by Compass Commercial Services, under Ahmann Companies, which also owns the ZCBJ building.

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Engelmann said he and Shriver currently are leasing the theater space and “if all goes well” could buy the building in a few years. He did not have a current cost estimate for the Olympic project.

The Olympic is expected to be complete around next spring, and the theater currently is accepting 2020 bookings at its website — theolympiccr.com.

• Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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