By Joe Bachman
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Last month it was announced that the Rapids Mall will be sold to the South Wood County YMCA and Boys & Girls Club to build a large community facility — however, this move is affecting more than just businesses.
A mainstay of the Rapids Mall for over 40 years, the Wisconsin Rapids Community Theatre has been bringing fine arts to the area, including award winning plays and most recently, “Arti Gras” — a week long arts festival. However, in a statement to city leaders by WRCT Executive Director Ellen Roeseler, while the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club have been cooperative in working with the theatre given the new owners, this will still affect the theatre’s production in many ways. One of the long-time requests from the theatre was for the acquisition of a space in the Centralia Center — and now that the mall will be bought out, it would have proven beneficial to the theatre.
“Acquisition of the additional Centralia space would mean we could move our offices to a floor-level, direct-access location,” said Roeseler in a letter sent to city councilmen. “The current Studio Theatre would continue to be utilized as a greenroom and rehearsal hall and a lounge area would be created in the new space for a direct-access small performance venue. A closed, safe, scene shop would be created with locked access.”
However, this acquisition would not come to fruition, as city council members voted to award the space to the Central Wisconsin Cultural Center, who will soon move out of their current location on 240 Johnson St. This means the theatre will likely lose access to some space that would directly hinder annual events, including WRCT’s haunted house.
Theatre officials hope to remind the city of the commitment to past and present downtown revitalization efforts on behalf of the organization, as the group is currently in a 50-year lease with the city for the space with an option to renew for a cost of $1 for another 50 years.
According to Roeseler, when the theatre was initially looking for a home, pressure was exerted by those involved in the revitalization efforts for WRCT to move into the space inside the Rapids Mall. Even though the theatre made concessions on the space needed, they ultimately and happily moved in — however, with one regret.
“Everyone made compromises and everyone committed to making it work,” said Roeseler in her statement to city council members. “The one regret we had was that we wanted to acquire the space to the south of our theatre which runs to the parking lot. The Montessori School was in there at the time; at the very end of our capital campaign the space opened up, but we were in the public phase of our campaign and felt we could not go to the community for another $200,000 (the lease price the City was asking at that time). We have looked longingly at the space ever since, (and made periodic requests for updated numbers) as it would solve some of the problems we have with the compromises we had to make early on.”
After all of that, according to Roeseler, the last thing she wants is for those within the arts community to butt heads and looks for continued compromise on behalf of city leaders, the arts community, and the YMCA/Boys & Girls Club.
“The things that are happening here are so positive, even if some people in the community don’t view it that way,” said Roeseler. “We are creating a situation where instead of being a positive, joyful experience of groups working together, it’s instead going to be a situation where you’re pitting people against each other, and nobody wants that.”
Officials with the YMCA/Boys & Girls Club will continue to work with the theatre for future best use of the coveted space.