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Coe College, Old Creamery Theatre explore bringing theater to Cedar Rapids campus

Both sides in early talks

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!” The show was produced in September and October 2019 at the Old Creamery Theatre in Amana. The theater and Coe College in Cedar Rapids are discussing the possibility of relocating the professional troupe on the Cedar Rapids campus. (Old Creamery Theatre)

Coe College and Old Creamery Theatre officials have begun preliminary discussions about bringing the professional troupe from Amana to the Cedar Rapids campus.

“It’s very, very early and we’re at the preliminary steps, but the potential is very exciting,” said David Hayes, Coe’s vice president for advancement and professor of business administration and economics.

Since Coe already is undertaking an initiative to enhance its performing arts spaces, he said “it made sense” to reach out to the Old Creamery “and do a little exploring together.”

“Although we’re still at a kicking-of-the-tires phase and an idea-generation stage, if it all could come together, we might be able to create a cultural crown jewel that would serve both our students and the larger arts community of Cedar Rapids,” he said, “so it’s certainly worthwhile to continue the conversation.”

Coe reached out to Peter Teahen, Old Creamery’s board president, in October, after learning that Kirkwood Community College had scrapped its plans to have the theater move from its current site, into a new state-of-the-art facility that would serve both the college and the theater.

The Old Creamery received 10 site offers, and narrowed it down to hold discussions with two — Coe and the City of Marion.

But the Helen G. Nassif Foundation, already onboard as a major financial backer for the move, stipulates that its funds be spent in Cedar Rapids.

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“So that’s probably going to become the final determining factor,” Teahen said. “The (foundation is) such a community asset and community leader, we would hate to give that up for any other option. With the Med Center there, and the Nassif influence on the Med Center, Coe College would be a beautiful complement to what the family has contributed to the community.”

On Tuesday, representatives from Coe, the Old Creamery and the City of Cedar Rapids met with architect Phil Hodgin from RDG Planning and Design in Des Moines to discuss the facility needs of both parties, as well as development plans in the College District around the Coe campus.

Teahen also cited Coe’s location along First Avenue as giving audiences easy access from the interstate, as well as its proximity to dining, lodging and shopping options.

“Nothing’s firm, nothing’s definite,” he emphasized, but he’s excited about the possibilities.

Hayes echoed that.

“The one thing we don’t have is an agreement of any type,” he said. “What we have is two parties having a whole lot of fun conceptualizing if there’s a way each could help the other. That’s just kind of it for now.”

The next step is for Hodgin to take the ideas, visions and obstacles noted by all sides, and come up with a line drawing of what the shared facilities could look like.

“Then we’ll have something more firm in place to move out to our board, and concepts to go to (Coe’s) board and their leadership team to further discussions,” Teahen said.

“We’re still trying to bring forward what all this space would need to provide,” Hayes said. “And then we’ll decide if it’s got legs or not.”

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If the collaboration does come to fruition, Hayes said it would increase opportunities for all students, not just fine arts students, to work with a professional theater company. It also would bring more audience and community members to the campus, and allow Coe to stage larger events.

“Coe has been known as a community gem,” Teahen said. “I’m a graduate there, so I’m somewhat partial a little bit, but they’ve got an international reputation, strong academic achievement (and) they’ve got a great fine arts department. The invitation by Coe to ask the Old Creamery Theatre to come in and have these discussions has been very fruitful, very beneficial to both sides as we discuss what would really enhance fine arts in the community.”

“Old Creamery has proved to be a very creative collaborator, and we’re enjoying working with it as we flesh out these ideas,” Hayes said. ”We’re in one of the hurry up and wait stages. The two sides are excited to explore some, but we haven’t even made a reservation at the restaurant yet.”

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

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