- Associated Press - Saturday, August 1, 2015

NEW ULM, Minn. (AP) - It all started as a beautiful dream.

But whether or not State Street Theater, would be able to grow “the roses of success” from the dust of New Ulm’s ol’ middle school auditorium was anybody’s guess.

It certainly wouldn’t happen in less than two years, or so the community theater group originally thought, The (Mankato) Free Press (https://bit.ly/1gxsBcx ) reported.

Did it forget “the theater is magic?”

“The fun thing about this project is we’ll get it done one and a half years ahead of schedule,” the theater company’s executive director Paul Warshauer said.



Just a few days earlier State Street Theater, formerly the New Ulm Actors Community Theater, had signed its name to the building’s deed, purchasing the auditorium, along with a large chunk of New Ulm’s old middle school, all for the low, low price of $0.

The group will never have to worry about making mortgage payments, Warshauer said. Though it has always planned on taking possession of the theater, the process was originally supposed to take at least 24 months.

Shall we call it serendipity, or just magic, that it took less?

“To me the biggest thing is we saved a historic building from being demolished,” Warshauer said. “Because there really is no purpose for these auditoriums anymore.”

“From the beginning, I wanted to get rid of the ‘chafe’ and keep the theater,” he added.

Developers have wanted pretty much the opposite. The rest of the building is being transformed into apartments, and a few have suggested tearing the auditorium apart so it could be transformed into livable space, as well.

But the now-defunct investment group that bought the building in 2014 has always intended it be preserved for the community theater’s use.

In August, it found a developer from the Twin Cities area willing to work under those conditions.

“We actually platted the building into two lots,” Warshauer said.

State Street Theater gets one and Centrasota Real Estate Services of Big Lake, Minnesota gets the second.

Cenate LLC, a group of 10 citizens that banded together in February 2014 to purchase the historic school (an entire block’s worth of property located at the intersection of Center and State streets) for $55,000, signed the property over Monday then promptly disbanded. Centrasota paid $200,000 for its half of the middle school, enabling Cenate to donate the rest to State Street Theater.

Because they held the building for more than a year, members of Cenate will be able to claim the donation as a “charitable contribution” on their tax returns next spring. The building is worth “at least” $1 million, Warshauer said. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

The New Ulm Public School District will continue to lease office space from State Street Theater, as well as the auditorium itself, for at least the next two years - it is expected the school district will need the space until it finishes building its new high school and auditorium.

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Just because it’s not making mortgage payments doesn’t mean the State Street Theater won’t be investing itself wholeheartedly in the old auditorium.

It has a series of renovations and improvements planned, which Warshauer says it’ll need the community’s help to make.

The only way to describe the costs is with the word “Yikes!” he said.

“Doing plays and musicals and events is not going to be enough to pay the bills,” Warshauer said. “We’re going to need the community’s support to do rentals, concerts and corporate events.”

Reed Glawe, president of State Street Theater’s Board of Directors, said owning the auditorium is both exciting and fear-inducing.

“From the perspective of a community citizen, it’s exciting to see that facility being used more often to support the performing arts,” he said. “… It’s also kind of sobering. It’s sobering in the sense that in the past it was a facility owned by the school district and maintained by the district for their purposes and community purposes, as well. Now that it’s owned by a private entity, there’s a lot of challenges ahead.”

Among them will be giving the theater a face lift that’s in keeping with its historic background.

Glawe hopes State Street will be able to get a few grants to make the improvements, but donations are also being accepted, perhaps even in exchange for naming rights.

On Warshauer’s wish list for the theater is all new seating, an orchestra pit, a fly system, a loading dock, elevators, a new floor for the stage, new lights and more.

One upgrade that will have to wait is the new floor. The stage currently doubles as a basketball court and is still used for sporting events. On the upside, “I’ve never been so fortunate to get a stage as large and usable as this one,” Warshauer said.

The building also has the advantage of being very large. Even cut in half, the theater has plenty of extra rooms and space. The group plans on turning an old gym into a “black box,” that they can host dinner theater in.

Down the hall, an old music room has already been transformed into a small studio theater that the group can use in the off-season.

Warshauer said the group is thrilled with all the possibilities, and riding the positive energy that comes from taking possession of the building, the theater group is already ramping up for a summer play.

It puts on “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” on July 23-26 and tickets are currently on sale on the theater’s website.

The production will be like none New Ulm has ever seen, Warshauer said. For one, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will literally take to the air.

“I’m not kidding,” Warshauer said. “The car is going to fly!”

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Information from: The Free Press, https://www.mankatofreepress.com

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