The announcement that Barnes & Noble will be closing its downtown bookstore on Dec. 31 has prompted speculation — and worry — about what will become of the historic Chateau Theatre building it inhabits.
Talk has ranged from a restaurant to a pharmacy to a movie theater, or possibly even a live theater, in the iconic building on Peace Plaza.
"I know there's been a number of discussions with people about it," said Brad Jones, executive director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It is certainly a landmark — I know there are business folks looking at it. It'll be interesting to see what happens."
David Deason, vice president of development for Barnes & Noble, said the store will close at the end of December. The lease expires Jan. 31.
"The Chateau Theater store was a special place for our booksellers and customers," Deason said. "We have enjoyed taking care of the space and our customers for more than 15 years, and we look forward to continuing to serve them at the nearby Apache Mall store."
The building is owned by the commercial real estate firm Dowel-Lieberman of Morristown, N.J. Principal Jane Lieberman was not available for comment this morning. The Chateau building's value is assessed at $2.88 million, according to Olmsted County property records.
The Chateau was built in 1927 and refurbished in 1994. The exterior sunburst design marquee is lit with 636 light bulbs. Its French Village decor includes interior balconies and turrets and, on the ceiling, stars in the night sky.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, although it's not clear what kind of protection that provides the building from alteration.
Jenna Bowman, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance, said that Barnes & Noble made the building into a gathering place in downtown Rochester, and she'd like that to continue.
"As far as what future holds, it would be great to see the building maintained in its historic nature," Bowman said.
The space would lend itself to different types of businesses, she said.
One idea would be to change it back into a movie theater, perhaps with a live theater and event space component, she said. People often ask downtown officials where the nearest movie theater is.
"Many know and value the space and the building," she said. "I'd hate to see that change and think the community would as well."
Jones said the building has a lot of curb appeal and skyway appeal. "We think it's kind of a cornerstone, and we'd love to see a vibrant community asset there."
Jones has connected the building's owner with a few business people expressing interest.
"It's a pretty big building — it takes a certain type of business that could sustain itself in there," Jones said.
Jones has heard arts advocates talk about turning the building into a live performing arts venue, although he added that that becomes a "$5 million discussion."
"I don't know if there's the resources to do that," he said.
"Those are all good discussions to have, but somebody owns the building," Jones added.