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Threshold Arts approved to operate Chateau Theatre

Rochester unanimously approves three-year agreement to let organization schedule events in historic venue.

Historic Chateau Theatre
The Historic Chateau Theatre on Monday, May 16, 2022, in downtown Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — An operating agreement for the historic Chateau Theatre was unanimously approved Monday.

The three-year contract with Threshold Arts requires the city-owned building to be active at least six days a week, with four or more days open to the public.

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Additional requirements call for specific types of activities, from free community events to rentals aimed at providing access to traditionally underserved groups, to be documented with specific goals.

“It gives us something to measure against,” said Jaymi Wilson, the city’s program manager working with the Threshold on the agreement.

Additionally, city departments will be given access to schedule up to 14 events a year at the Chateau, with added opportunities for city activities approved by the administration.

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Similar to a 2019 agreement with Exhibits Development Group, Threshold Arts will not pay rent on the property, but it will turn over 10% of its future rental revenue to the city for improvements to the Chateau.

While some council members raised questions about the lack of monthly rent payments from Threshold, city staff noted the agreement is intended to activate the building, which the city purchased for $6 million in 2015.

“We are currently generating no income for the building,” Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said.

A report sent to the council last week cited the potential negative effects related to the building sitting vacant and unused for a long period.

“The use of a building ensures the exercise of its components and mechanical systems, which were not designed to remain stagnant for long periods of time,” Wilson wrote in the report.

Threshold Arts founding director Naura Anderson said plans call for a variety of arts and cultural exhibits, alongside retail and community spaces, with the ability for private rentals. She said some activation is expected within weeks of getting the contract signed by the mayor and city clerk.

However, some updates are expected to be made to the building before it's completely ready for the planned uses.

On Wednesday, the state’s Destination Medical Center Corp. board will be asked to approve using up to $250,000 in state funds for improvements to the Chateau Theatre.

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Wilson said the improvements are expected to make changes that will assist with creating a “turnkey” operation for current and future uses. Work included installation of equipment needed to improve the ability to hold live performances in the building.

Anderson said Threshold Arts will cover costs related to some specific needs for its operations.

In 2019, the city made approximately $230,000 in improvements needed to meet EDG’s needs as it took over operations of the building.

EDG’s three-year agreement with the city ended prematurely amid shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Threshold agreement includes a potential early end, in case the city finds a path to long-term operation of the building. If that happens, the city has an option to buy out the contract.

Otherwise, the agreement also includes an option for the city and Threshold to renew the contract in three years, if both sides remain in agreement on the established terms.


What happened: The Rochester City Council approved a three-year agreement with Threshold Arts for operation of the Chateau Theatre.

Why does this matter: The agreement calls for operations at least six days a week, with the majority open to the public.

What's next: The Destination Medical Center Corp. board is slated to consider an agreement for funding improvements to the building as work continues with plans to open for summer use.


Timeline

1927 — The Chateau Theatre opens in downtown Rochester as a vaudeville theater and movie house. Guests were treated to a 14th century French chateau architecture and the music of pipe organ.

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1979 — Rochester resident John Kreusel and others start the "Worldwide Friends of the Chateau Theatre" to save the 1,488-seat theater from destruction.

1980 — The Chateau Theatre is added to the National Register of Historic Places.

1983 — The Chateau Theatre shows its last movie. A "Save the Chateau" committee collects thousands of signatures, and the building is purchased for shops and then a restaurant. It ends up in foreclosure.

1992 — The Rochester City Council decides against buying the Chateau Theatre, expressing concerns about the building's cost and a desire for private ownership. The price tag discussed at that time was $400,000 — the amount it cost to build the theater in 1927, according to a Post-Bulletin story.

1993 — The Chateau Theatre is purchased with plans to turn it into a Barnes & Noble bookstore. The city of Rochester bought the building for $174,000 and then sold it to Rochester developer Gus Chafoulias. The city contributed $278,000 toward exterior and interior restoration work and $221,500 toward construction of a skyway to connect it to what is known today as University Square. Another $2.65 million in private money was invested in the theater.

1994 — Barnes & Noble opens in the Chateau Theatre.

2014 — Barnes & Noble closes.

March 16, 2015 — The city, with help from Mayo Clinic, proposes to buy the historic Chateau Theatre for $6 million.

April 6, 2015 — The Rochester City Council approves purchase of the theater in a unanimous vote.

April 30, 2015 — The DMC Corp. board of directors approves the Chateau Theatre project, ensuring the city’s expense counts toward its $128 million DMC investment commitment.

Sept. 17, 2015 — Twelve-member Chateau Theater Reuse Task Force meets for first time.

Jan. 4, 2016 — City closes on theater purchase.

May 10, 2016 — Task force selects Miller Dunwiddie Architecture to lead the restoration and re-use project at the downtown theater.

Sept. 20, 2017 — Chateau Theatre Reuse Task Force recommends a potential $23 million upgrade for the historic theater.

June 26, 2018 — Rochester’s Heritage Preservation Commission approves renovation plans to allow interim use of the building as work continues on determining final use of theater.

Aug. 21, 2018 — Rochester City Council rejects bids for renovations after they exceed amount approved by council and Destination Medical Center Corp. board.

Nov. 14, 2018 — DMCC board approves a contract with Benike Construction after second request for renovation bids. The city council had approved contract earlier in the month.

Dec. 19, 2018 — City puts out request for proposal for the operation and management of the Chateau for three to five years.

Feb. 15, 2019 — Five proposals are submitted, and a seven-member review team comprised of city and Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency staff begins comparing the options presented by Entourage Events Group, Exhibits Development Group, Arcades Are Awesome!, Threshold Arts LLC and Arts Trust of Minnesota.

May 6, 2019 — The review team officially recommends Exhibits Development Group, and the Rochester City Council approves moving forward with creating a contract.

Aug. 19, 2019 — The contract is approved and work starts on approximately $230,000 in city-funded improvements needed to meet EDG’s needs.

Nov. 23, 2019 — EDG opens the Chateau Theatre with “The Magical History Tour,” featuring Beatles memorabilia, as its first exhibit.

March 13, 2020 — Gov. Tim Walz declares a statewide pandemic emergency, which leads to restrictions for operations at the Chateau, forcing EDG to close the doors.

June 18, 2021 — The city of Rochester announces it has agreed with EDG to end the agreement for operating the theater.

Nov. 11, 2021 — From three proposals heard by the city in October 2021, Threshold Arts is recommended by city staff as future operator of the Chateau Theatre, but the Rochester City Council postpones a decision.

Jan. 19, 2022 — Rochester City Council approves Threshold Arts as the potential operator of the Chateau Theatre, and work begins on a final agreement.

May 16, 2022 — Rochester City Council approves three-year contract with Threshold Arts.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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