Chateau Theater (copy)

The Chateau Theatre opened in 1928 as a vaudeville theater.

Color us skeptical, but willing to be swayed.

The decision by Rochester City Council to award operation of the historic Chateau Theatre to Exhibits Development Group seems out of step with the community’s desire for the building.

From the time the city purchased the Chateau, talk was that this could be a center for the performing and visual arts. Oh sure, other ideas (a visitors’ center, etc.) cropped up from time to time, but it seems to us the community thought that for a $6 million investment (including $500,000 from Mayo Clinic), the Chateau should be made available for local residents to perform and to enjoy performances.

That’s especially the case given what appeared to be an impressive presentation by Rochester-based Arts Trust of Minnesota to make the Chateau a center for live theater and other entertainment. Rochester’s burgeoning performing arts scene is scraping to find spaces for classes, rehearsals, storage and performances.

In other words, the Chateau and the Arts Trust of Minnesota seemed to be made for each other. “The future usage was going to be a theater, and that is why I thought the ATOM proposal fit in better for the learning of how this would work or wouldn’t work,” said council member Patrick Keane.

However, the majority of the city council saw it differently, and opted for the plan by Exhibits Development Group to present a variety of exhibits that will be combined with related events and performances. It’s an intriguing proposal, but is it right for the Chateau? Or might it be better located in an exhibit hall at Mayo Civic Center?

City officials said they like the proposal’s potential to have something of interest, especially for Mayo Clinic visitors, in the Chateau everyday. That, rightly or wrongly, will only confirm talk around town that Destination Medical Center-related projects are primarily about visitors rather than local residents. While we don’t entirely buy that sentiment, we do understand it.

The next step for the city is to negotiate a contract with Exhibits Development Group, which is seeking $230,000 in further public investment in the Chateau.

Time will tell if the council made the correct decision for the Chateau. Keep in mind, though, that this setup is really only an interim step to get something going in the Chateau before a permanent use is determined three years down the road.

So again, color us skeptical —but hopeful.

Meanwhile, we hope the mayor and city officials are sincere when they say they want to work with Arts Trust of Minnesota to find more space for performing arts groups.

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