For the first time in years, the former Stillwater Zephyr train depot is reopening its doors to the community on the evening of Friday, Nov. 11. A one-act play will kick off a capital campaign to raise funds to purchase the downtown depot, in order to turn it into a professional theater.
The project was proposed in the spring by the Afton-based nonprofit Only a Dim Image Productions, which plans to close on the property Jan. 4, at purchase price of $2.5 million. Earnest money has been paid, according to Calyssa Hall, founder and artistic director of the group.
The theater plan, approved by the city council in April, calls for removing about 1,300 square feet from the existing depot and adding about 8,000 square feet of theater space on the north end. It will have an auditorium with seating for about 330 people, as well as a bakery, bar, dance rehearsal studio and meeting hall/rehearsal space.
The theater, meeting hall and rehearsal space will also provide a fee-based venue for conventions, lectures and events, and will offer educational opportunities for youth and adults.
Overall the project is expected to cost $6.5 million. Phase I is to raise the $2.5 million so the nonprofit can purchase the building without debt.
“I think Stillwater really sees itself as an arts culture,” Hall said. She hopes to enhance that culture. “There’s such a need for an art center/theater.”
Suzanne Brown, a board member and co-chair of the capital campaign, agreed. Brown has been involved in the Stillwater art scene since 1992, and was one of the founding board members of River Valley Arts Council, which is now ArtReach St. Croix.
Brown said restoring a theater space to Stillwater is the “final piece of making Stillwater a true destination.”
For years there has been discussion of creating a theater in Stillwater, and Brown believes the timing is right. Over the summer, Only a Dim Image Productions hired Toscano Advisors to conduct a feasibility study, and the results were positive.
“The response from the consultant was, ‘proceed,’” Brown said.
“I think that gave people a lot more confidence that, yes, it is feasible for the community,” Hall said.
Hall didn’t want to make any official announcements about fundraising progress until December.
“We’ve been telling people we’re confident we can close Jan. 4,” she said.
Brown acknowledged that raising the funds by January is a “very aggressive goal,” but she’s heard positive feedback from the public and is optimistic.
“I also believe in our community,” she said. “We are a very generous community.”
If the fundraising campaign doesn’t quite meet the Jan. 4 deadline, Brown believes the group has the ability to negotiate with seller David Paradeau.
The Nov. 11 fundraising kickoff will feature the board members of Only a Dim Image Productions in a one-act play with special guests, including world-class violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Stillwater native and rising opera singer Jack Swanson. Although reservations are required for the Nov. 11 show, the group will likely schedule another performance before Dec. 31.
Hall hopes to start construction on the theater by January, with an expected opening date in mid-2018.
Only a Dim Image Productions isn’t waiting until then to offer classes to the community.
“In the meantime we’re still a theater company, we’re still a nonprofit, and a major part of our mission is education,” Hall said. “So we just wanted to start programing and start getting out in the community and doing stuff.”
This fall, the company began offering youth classes in the Brick Alley Building. Hall hopes to add adult classes this spring.
For more information about the classes, the theater and fundraising efforts, go to stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]