Community

Old Creamery Theatre heartened by public response to building dilemma

New site decisions expected in 2020 for Amana-based troupe

Carrie SaLoutos (from left),#xa0;Kristen Behrendt DeGrazia and Nikki Savitt get down with disco, channeling an ABBA hit
Carrie SaLoutos (from left), Kristen Behrendt DeGrazia and Nikki Savitt get down with disco, channeling an ABBA hit parade in the Old Creamery Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!” which ran Sept. 5 to Oct. 13 on the main stage in Amana. It’s the largest show the professional troupe has mounted, which paves the way for even bigger shows that could be mounted in a new facility with expanded production capabilities. The theater is exploring site options after Kirkwood Community College withdrew its offer of land on the campus in southwest Cedar Rapids. (Old Creamery Theatre)

In an Oct. 4 email, Kirkwood President Lori Sundberg informed Peter Teahen, president of the Old Creamery Theatre’s board, that the community college no longer was interested in having the professional troupe build a new theater on the southwest Cedar Rapids campus.

Under the original plan, the Old Creamery would raise about $5 million to build a state-of-the-art theater complex on five acres of land on the north side of the Kirkwood campus, which the college would deed to the Old Creamery, now based in Amana, once construction financing was in place. The footprint would include turning an automotive technology shop into space for scenery construction, costuming and storage space under one roof — something the theater hasn’t had.

Target date for opening was 2021, during the Old Creamery’s 50th anniversary.

The change in plans “caught us totally by surprise,” Teahen told The Gazette on Oct 11. “This has been the agreement for three years.”

What’s happened since

The Old Creamery has received 10 offers for a new site for the theater and has narrowed the search to three top contenders. The Helen G. Nassif Foundation, in talks for leading financial support at the time, remains onboard for funding and naming rights, Teahen said.

“Nassif (Foundation) is standing strong with us,” he said. “ ... They have committed as a major donor to the event, but the dollar amount they’re giving us may change as the project changes. It’s nice that we’re in constant contact with them, and they are constantly reassuring that they are fully supporting the theater move and supporting the arts in any way for a long-term vitality of the program.”

The public began responding immediately after The Gazette broke the story Oct. 12 of Kirkwood’s severed ties with the Old Creamery project.

“They couldn’t believe Kirkwood did such a thing,” Teahen said. “ ... When your article came out on Saturday morning, by 9 o’clock or 9:30, we received our first of 10 contacts saying, ‘Please consider coming here. We want you to come here. We’ll give you land if you come. When can we meet? We want make sure we’re involved,’ ” Teahen said.

The offers included sites in Vinton, Marion, North Liberty, various parts of Cedar Rapids and a tract along Highway 30 near Kirkwood.

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“My executive committee has gone out and we’ve met with all 10 people who reached out to us from the moment that article was released,” Teahen said, “and I’ve had great conversations with them. We are extremely optimistic of the future of the theater and what we’re going to be able to do to really promote the arts in the community. ...

“We’ve eliminated some of the 10, simply because of practicality of the locations that would fit our market needs,” he said. “We have three that are technically still in consideration, and we continue to appreciate that dialogue.”

He didn’t name those three because action hasn’t been taken yet, but said the theater board has been meeting to bring new members up to date and discuss the needs as they pertain to the sites under consideration. He anticipates being able to move forward after Jan. 1.

Because the initial design reflected architecture on the Kirkwood campus, the Old Creamery is going back to the drawing board, bringing on a new architectural firm from Des Moines, recommended by the Nassif Foundation. With the delay, Teahen doesn’t expect to have a new facility opened by the 50th anniversary year in 2021, but perhaps by the following year.

The architects have proposed coming over in the near future for two or three days of meetings, Teahen said, to look at the options — whether they will involve renovation of an existing structure or construction of a new building.

“It would be ideal to (open in) 2021, but to do the design work and do a capital fund drive to make sure you’ve got the money to start a building, you’d have to start building by this coming spring, and I just don’t see us being able to do that,” he said. “It may be pushed back to 2022.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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