Work has begun on a $3.5 million project to revitalize the historic West Bend Theatre in the city’s downtown.
[gallery type="slideshow" size="large" ids="452989,452990,452991,452992,452993"]
The plan to restore the 90-year-old theater at 125 N. Main St. has been in the works since 2017, when nonprofit group Historic West Bend Theatre, Inc. purchased the building for $250,000 and went public with a capital campaign for the project.
Historic West Bend Theatre supporters and community officials Wednesday for a groundbreaking ceremony.
The project will include a new heating and ventilating system, new roof, revamped electrical and plumbing systems, new sound and video equipment, IT systems, new restrooms, an enlarged stage, new seating on the main floor and balcony and the addition of an art deco-style bar.
The 600-seat theater opened in downtown West Bend in 1929 and showed films until it closed in 2006. The renovated building will include 120 seats on the main floor and 200 in the balcony.
Previous proposals to gut all but the building’s facade were met with opposition from the West Bend community.
[caption id="attachment_380405" align="alignright" width="250"]
The West Bend Theatre sign has been removed for restoration.[/caption]
“This is a very rare event that takes place, where an entire city and town can come together and recreate history,” said Nic Novaczyk, president of HWBT, at the groundbreaking ceremony. “This has been an identifying mark for West Bend for decades and decades and decades. It’s just been such a joy and privilege to watch it in its early stages start to come back to life. And I think over the next six, eight, nine months of construction, we’re really going to see something special.”
HWBT has raised about $2.1 million from private sources, including West Bend Mutual Insurance, National Exchange Bank & Trust, area foundations and individual donors. The organization has also submitted applications for about $1.1 million in tax credits and other grants. The group will continue fundraising throughout the year.
HWBT organizers envision the restored theater serving as an all-purpose community facility, hosting showings of classic movies, musical performances, comedy acts, corporate events and weddings.
“It’s multi-purpose; we want it to do all kinds of things,” said John Torinus, a HWBT board member and chairman of Serigraph Inc. “We want the public to feel they own this theater. We want it full five or six days a week.”
HWBT initially expected the restoration work to take a year to complete, but the group said it could move more quickly than for completion by the end of 2019.
MSI General is the general contractor for the project. Sub-contractors include Steiner Electric, Albiero Plumbing and Affordable Environmental Technologies.
HWBT’s board also plans to hire an executive director in June. Until now, HWBT has been a volunteer effort, led by the group’s 18-person board.