Boots & Sabers

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Tag: West Bend Theater

More Activity With West Bend’s Downtown Theater

There’s nothing like a deadline to get people moving. The groups interested in renovating the theater apparently sat on their duffs for the entire year that the City gave them and now there’s a flurry of activity. The Washington County Insider has this:

On Tuesday a private tour was held with a potential investor. “I’m very interested in this project,” said Tim Schmidt, CEO of Delta Defense in West Bend.

Schmidt is in the process of building a new headquarters in West Bend. His company provides sales, marketing and IT administrative services to the United States Concealed Carry Association and publishes Concealed Carry Magazine. In 2016 Delta Defense was No. 1971 in Inc. 5000 rankings.

I’m just going to point out that an old movie theater is perfectly configured for an indoor pistol range. Just sayin’…

And this:

On Monday, broadcast live the unveiling of plans to retain the facade and marquee of the building and the raze the remainder.

David Stroik with Zimmerman Architectural Studios presented details on an open-air park that would be terraced to the riverwalk to the east.

A new graphic (see right) released by Stroik shows a view to the west. The blue and red canopy on top and on the wall a historic reminder of the theatre’s past.


New designs for those looking to restore the theatre include a proposed hydraulic floor and cutting a large window into the wall behind the stage for additional natural light should the theatre be turned into a hall for receptions.

Plans have honed in on an entertainment-and-education complex with a goal of not only restoring the theatre’s historical significance, but breathing new life and purpose into it.

Call me jaded, but we’ve seen plans and artist renditions for 10 years as the theater has sat empty. I’ll get worked up when someone actually puts some money into it.

New Plan for Old Theater

There was some movement (sort of) on the West Bend Theater and the Bridge to Nowhere during the Council meeting tonight. The Washington County Insider has the details.

Dec. 19, 2016 – West Bend, WI – During Monday night’s West Bend Common Council meeting an update about the downtown Business Improvement District (BID) and its timeline on removing or refurbishing the pedestrian bridge morphed into a proposal about the future of the West Bend Theatre.

David Stroik, president and CEO of Zimmerman Architectural Studios made the presentation. He outlined saving the façade of the theatre along with the iconic marquee and turning the rest into an open-air park.

“In a way it’s like a Western storefront but the façade of the building and the easterly 12 – 15 feet would be saved,” said Stroik.

Drawings showed the front of the theatre building intact with trees and green space visible through the door frames.

Stroik said the 3-story brick façade, which previously housed the projection room for the theatre, would help maintain the structural viability of the building; he said that space could eventually hold restrooms.

Death Throes of West Bend Theater

The saga of the West Bend Theater is entering its gasping final stages. From the Washington County Insider:

The theatre is a hot topic. It marked its 87th anniversary on November 26.

Since about 2007 the theatre has gone dark. There have been some recent rumblings about a possible sale or even razing the building for an outdoor amphitheater. None of the rumors have been confirmed by building owner Matt Prescott.

What has been confirmed is a December deadline regarding the renovation or removal of the bridge behind the theatre. The downtown West Bend Business Improvement District put forth a $75,000 surety to save the pedestrian bridge that extends from the back of the West Bend Theatre over the Milwaukee River.

That deadline, now a year later, is just a couple weeks away.

During Sunday’s West Bend Christmas Parade an attempt was made by historian Terry Becker to rally some support for the future of the theatre by having people gather below the West Bend marquee for a photo.

About 30 people drifted over to the theatre but came away disappointed.

“It’s just disorganized,” said Bartelt. “People are looking at information. I asked if they were going to do the community picture and nobody answered me.”

The West Bend Theater and its iconic sign has been a centerpiece of downtown West Bend for generations, but its time is over. The problem is that there just isn’t enough interest in doing anything with it. There are a handful of people who are actively involved in trying to restore it, but they lack the funds (or are unwilling to spend their own funds) to do it. The rest of the community is about like me, I suppose. I would like to see something done with it, but it isn’t important enough for me to invest much of my own time or money in doing so. It would be “neat,” but I have other priorities.

The theater has been empty for almost a decade. The flurry of activity last year to save it has fizzled out like the previous attempts to save it. It’s time to admit that West Bend has moved on and let it die.

West Bend Theater Project Stumbles On

From the West Bend Daily News this morning:

Members of the West Bend Cultural Alliance, the organization hoping to buy the vacant theater at 125 N. Main St., met Thursday night to rehearse what steps need to be taken to reach that goal.

John Sancomb, who led the meeting in the absence of President Nancy Storrs, said a plan needs to be drawn up that will satisfy the city’s Common Council and the Downtown Business Improvement District — both of which have shown support for the project — and will be attractive to possible donors.

Thursday night was only the second time the Alliance has met since becoming involved in the plan to renovate the theater and refurbish the now-defunct bridge into a usable span over the Milwaukee River, providing pedestrian access to parking across the river.

“We need to have a clearer vision of what the theater can be,” Sancomb said.

Kevin Zimmer, who initially proposed restoring the theater, said a study was done by an architectural firm, but “it was a very grandiose plan that included using additional buildings,” something Zimmer said he doesn’t think should be part of the plan.

You might remember that this came to a head last month when the city was moving ahead with a plan to tear down the Bridge to Nowhere – a defunct enclosed pedestrian bridge over the Milwaukee River. The folks who wanted to renovate the West Bend Theater insisted that the bridge was critical to that renovation and got the city to keep the bridge. The city agreed after the BID put up the money to tear down the bridge in the event that the theater renovation never comes to fruition. The city put a time limit on these plans and told the group that they have to have an approved plan and (I think) broken ground by this time next year. If they don’t, then the city will call in the money from BID and tear down the bridge.

That was a month ago. Since then, the Cultural Alliance has only met a couple of times. The only thing they have agreed upon is that the seats in the renovated theater should be removable. That’s it. They can’t agree on the final vision. As far as I can tell, they still don’t even have a plan to fund the renovation. In a project of this size and scope, a year (less than a year with the time needed to get city approvals) goes very quickly and it appears that they have frittered away a month already.

It’s disappointing. We would all like to see the theater renovated, but it’s beginning to look like the effort is stumbling. Unfortunately, if they don’t get their act together, West Bend will go through another controversy next year when the city moves to tear down the bridge and the Cultural Alliance pushes for more time.

Groups Vies to Buy West Bend Theater


The stage is being set for the purchase of the 86-year-old West Bend Theatre by the West Bend Cultural Alliance.

At a meeting of the board of the Alliance Tuesday night, discussion centered around saving both the theater at 125 N. Main St. and a covered walkway across the Milwaukee River that is connected to it but out of use.

“We’d like to purchase the theater so it can truly be a community theater,” said Nancy Storrs, who founded the Alliance in 2011 and was elected to serve as its president at Tuesday night’s meeting. “We will be setting up a fundraising task force for its purchase.”


The Alliance would like to restore the old theater — but any rehabilitation of the building into a venue for community use depends on preserving the covered walkway that was scheduled for demolition.

“The first real step in this

A8 “The first real step in this project is going to be the bridge because without it, there is no second step.”project is going to be the bridge because without it, there is no second step,” Storrs said.


Therese Sizer, member of the Alliance board, asked about the importance of the famed “bridge to nowhere.” A new bridge is going to be constructed by the city just a bit north of the covered walkway to go between the new vest pocket park and the Museum of Wisconsin Art on the other side of the river.

“The new bridge is too far. We’ve been told that people do not want to have to park and then walk very far, especially if the weather is poor,” Amy Zimmer said.

It is great that this group is working to renovate the theater. Any time a group of people pool their private resources together to try to build a business in the city, it should be applauded. But a few things strike me as dubious.

First, I’m not sure the market is there for what they want to do. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance of the theater the one and only time I was in it. It was pretty cool. But it has been closed for almost a decade and it wasn’t exactly a huge attraction before that (hence, it went out of business). I’d venture to say that the vast majority of folks in West Bend have never been inside the theater. So what the group is trying to capitalize on is the nostalgia for what most people have never experienced and the famous sign.

As a business, I question what the audience is. They are talking about audiences of 500 people. What will draw that? Is the intent for the theater to offer stage shows? It’s too small to get any large show – particularly on a regular basis. Will it be for local artists? Those aren’t likely to draw 500 people on a regular basis. Will it show movies? That’s what it tried before and it will struggle to compete with modern theaters.

I’m just having a hard time imagining the audience that will sustain a theater business in that facility. The advocates cite other theaters that have been renovated and are a “success.” Are they? The Milwaukee Theater and the Pabst Theater are open and operate, but they also operate at a loss with substantial taxpayer support. And those theaters are in a much larger population center than West Bend. Is that a model that works for West Bend? I don’t think so. I don’t see any appetite for taxpayer support of a theater nor are the advocates asking for it (yet). So the theater will have to survive as a profitable private venture competing with those existing theaters for acts and audience – not to mention all of the other entertainment choices of consumers.

Also, locally, bear in mind that both the West Bend High Schools and Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School have both just constructed Performance Arts Centers that are beautiful, modern, and seat far more people than the downtown theater, so the probability of the downtown theater even being the selected venue for local plays and performances are limited.

I have no doubt that the theater operators could probably pull together a show or two a year that fill the house, but I have a hard time envisioning a sustainable business.

Finally, there is the obsession with the bridge. I just don’t get that. If the theater is going to have shows that draw enough people to fill it, the fact that patrons have to walk 100 feet north to a bridge is hardly a rational deterrent. While the covered bridge has a marginal advantage over an uncovered bridge, the covered bridge is also more difficult to access for the elderly and infirm – exactly the people most likely to be deterred by having to use the new bridge. Also, given the nice new park and access to the theater, I’d suspect that many theater patrons would walk that way anyway to enjoy the rest of downtown West Bend before or after a show. It seems that the renovation of the bridge is just an added expense with little marginal benefit to the overall project.

I applaud the folks trying to put this together. Many of us would love to enjoy a rejuvenated downtown theater and I hope they are successful. I know they are just starting, but they need a better business plan than nostalgia if they are going to raise the money for it.



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