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How should the Chateau Theatre be used?

Moments after the Rochester leaders announced the city's plan to buy the historic Chateau Theatre, ideas were already swirling on how best to use the 88-year-old building.

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At noon Monday at the Peace Plaza, Mayor Ardell Brede announced that the city has proposed to purchase the iconic Chateau Theatre for $6 million. With him wereMayo Clinic President John Noseworthy, left, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and City Council President Randy Staver.
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Moments after Rochester leaders announced the city's plan to buy the historic Chateau Theatre, ideas were swirling on how best to use the 88-year-old building.

"People have been coming up to me already telling me what they think we should be using it for," Rochester City Council member Mark Bilderback said while standing outside of the theater. "It's kind of fun to see that much energy stirred up by this building."

Ideas tossed out included a convention and visitors bureau, a restaurant and a movie theater. And city leaders expect plenty more suggestions to come rolling in as the city moves ahead.

On Monday, Rochester city leaders announced plans to purchase the iconic building for $6 million. The city would cover $5.5 million of the purchase price with existing funds, and the Mayo Clinic has pledged to cover the remaining $500,000. The Rochester City Council is slated to vote on the purchase agreement on April 6. If the agreement is approved, that will trigger a 60-day review period during which city leaders say they'll be looking to gather ideas from the public.

The theater has been vacant since Barnes & Noble closed. The building is owned by a commercial real estate firm — Dowel-Lieberman of Morristown, N.J. The company bought the property in 2004 for $6.14 million.

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Backers of the city's bid to buy the building point to it as a great first step in the $6 billion initiative known as Destination Medical Center, which aims to turn the city into a global destination for health care. Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy said the Mayo brothers supported the building of the Chateau Theatre in 1927 because they understood the importance of having entertainment options for the clinic's patients and city residents.

"We know that when patients and their families come to Rochester, they spend 70 percent of their time away from Mayo Clinic and in the community, and it's extremely important that there are ample entertainment and leisure activities for them," Noseworthy said.

Rochester City Council President Randy Staver said if the city ends up buying the building, it plans to maintain ownership of it. While there are no specific plans on how best to use the theater, Staver said it's important the process is open and accessible to the public.

"We feel this building really belongs to the community, so we will be looking for purposes that really open it up and make it very available to the community as a whole," Staver said.

Among those cheering the city's bid for the theater property is longtime historic preservation activist John Kruesel. His efforts to save the building date to 1979, when he founded the group "Worldwide Friends of the Chateau Theatre." At that time, he was president of the Olmsted County Historical Society and met with Mayo Clinic and city leaders to try to convince them to buy the building for $450,000. That proposal ended up going nowhere.

Asked how he would like to see the building used, Kruesel said he said the answer is a "no brainer." It needs to be a community space so residents and visitors can enjoy the historic landmark.

"This needs to be a gathering space, ideally open 24 hours a day, for all our visitors that come here," he said. "Turn it into (a space) for seminars, for vaudeville, for small players. Extend the size of the stage and use it as a move venue for matinees."

Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau's Executive Director Brad Jones said he would like to see the space become an attraction for visitors to the city.

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"What we don't want is something that just has two performances a week. We need something that activates the space everyday with lots of options for people," Jones said.

Jenna Bowman, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance, said the Chateau Theatre could play a valuable role in helping draw more people downtown on weekends.

"If it can be a space that can be used to provide experiences and memories for both residents and visitors, I think that would be fantastic," Bowman said.

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Weigh in on the Chateau's future

• The Post-Bulletin has a Dialogues public meeting set for Thursday on the future of the theater. The hourlong informal discussion will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Rochester Public Library auditorium.

• To weigh in on your preference for the theater's use, vote in the P-B's current online poll .

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

1935 — A woman named Emma Jensen wins $5 for watching "The Bridge of Frankenstein" alone in the theater.

1979 — John Kreusel and others found 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 book store. 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.

2015 — City of Rochester announces plans to buy the Chateau Theatre for $6 million with help from Mayo Clinic.

Our View: Chateau sale brightens community

City purchase of Chateau is Dialogues topic

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Local antiques dealer John Kruesel wears a Chateau Theater "Save me!" pin.

Related Topics: THEATERMAYO CLINIC
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