The Zephyr Theatre is continuing to raise money ahead of a planned July 1 closing on its purchase of the former Zephyr train depot at the north end of downtown Stillwater.
Although the full purchase price is $2.5 million, the goal is to have $1 million in donations and pledges by July 1.
“If we can do that, we’ll own the building,” said Calyssa Hall, founder and artistic director of the theater. “We fully intend to close on the building July 1. House parties, pledges, information sessions, fundraising events and crowdfunding are some of the many ways we are reaching our goal.”
Purchasing the building is the first step in creating a 330-seat professional theater. Plans for the theater were announced in early 2016, and the city council approved the theater in April 2016. The entire project is expected to cost $6.5 million.
“Once we own the building, a lot of other funding sources open up,” Hall said. “We’re looking to the community to get us to the point of owning it.”
Hall believes Stillwater sees itself as having an arts culture, and says there’s a need for an art center and theater space.
“We’ve made so many partnerships,” Hall said. “I’m beyond excited about what this can be. It’s gotten bigger and bigger.”
Property taxes on depot
The depot building is currently owned by David Paradeau, who used to run the Minnesota Zephyr dinner train, but the building has sat vacant for years.
Paradeau owes approximately $275,000 in delinquent taxes, special assessments and interest on the property and must pay the taxes by July 21 to avoid forfeiting the property. He had hoped to enter an agreement for a five-year payment plan with Washington County. However, he needed a letter of support from the Stillwater City Council.
On May 2, the Stillwater City Council voted 4-1 not to support a payment plan, with Councilmember Dave Junker dissenting. The council cited frustration in working with Paradeau in the past, specifically regarding the removal of the Zephyr locomotives. The roughly $14,000 the city spent to remove the locomotives is included in the $275,000 Paradeau owes.
The council also was frustrated that Paradeau’s request didn’t include a justification for why he needed a payment plan.
Paradeau told The Gazette he was upset by the council’s decision, considering how many people and how much tax revenue his business brought to the city over the years.
He said he’s faced some financial challenges because the buyers of the Minnesota Zephyr train are in default.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars are missing from my potential, and without them paying after four years, it has crippled me financially to a degree,” he said.
Nevertheless, Paradeau said he will make financial arrangements and pay the tax bill.
“I’ll pay the whole thing in a timely manner,” he said. “I’m not going to lose my building for $275,000.”
But Paradeau said the end result will be positive, because the Zephyr Theatre is “the best possible buyer.”
“What could be better for the north end of town?” Paradeau said of the theater. “I’m very optimistic.”
To learn more about the Zephyr Theatre, its fundraisers and the classes already being offered, go to stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]