Occupying most of a city block in downtown Staples, the 112 year old Batcher Block Opera House stands as “one of the best-preserved rural opera houses in Minnesota,” and through its life the building has served as the cultural heart of the city of Staples and the greater region. Currently, the City of Staples, along with multiple community stakeholders and partner groups, have a chance to restore the now-dormant space to preserve the historic character of the building while making necessary changes and upgrades for the building to function with a new use.
The Region 5 area has seen significant growth in cultural amenities in recent years, such as the Little Falls SPROUT Food Hub and the recent work on the future Region 5 Children’s Museum in the Brainerd Lakes Area. The Batcher Block Opera House will act as the missing piece in the cultural landscape of Region 5: a performance arts hub offering space to performing artists throughout the region, state, and beyond. The Opera House will function as a cultural destination, continuing to elevate Region 5 as an arts and culture community and increasing the success of Staples and partner communities in utilizing arts and culture as an economic driver.
The current Minnesota office of Management and Budget (MMB) Capital Projects 2020 request presents a unique moment for the Opera House, along with the potential for state and historic tax credits to aid in the capital financing.
Building on the unique history of both the building and the greater Staples downtown area, the Opera House will act as a mixed-use performance and education hub for people of all ages. The following program plan details suggested space design and best usage for the revitalization, artistic excellence, and long-term sustainability of the Batcher Block Opera House.
At the core of successful community planning efforts, engaged residents of diverse backgrounds come together to define a vision, develop goals, and identify measurable objectives to ensure their vision becomes a reality. In Staples, the Steering Committee represented a specific cross-sector of the community, including business leaders, elected officials, local arts supporters and champions, and representatives of other community and business groups, with many Committee members falling into several of those categories.
The Steering Committee also included members who have been and will continue to be engaged in the rehabilitation of the Batcher Block Opera House, from architect to historic preservation specialist to the current building owner, Colleen Frost. Without their tireless work not only during this process but prior to McClure’s involvement, the vision for the Batcher Block Opera House would not be as clear and as powerful as it stands today, as their plans for the building set the stage for the program plan enclosed in this document. This action plan is made possible in large part by their efforts.
Community Visioning Sessions
To begin the process of generating this program plan, local residents engaged in community visioning sessions over the course of several days. These sessions included input from local artists, community leaders, parents, city officials, arts patrons, educators, and high school students, and through these sessions over 200 different programs or concepts were identified as potential components of the Batcher Block Opera House program plan. Several key themes emerged from these visioning sessions, which informed the concepts included in this program plan. These themes include:
- Greater access to live music
- More opportunities for arts education for people of all ages
- Cooking classes, health classes, and experiential dining options
- Greater access to film screenings, comedy, and live theater
- Local retail in the downtown area, especially retail from local artists and artisans
- More public art and gathering spaces downtown
Given the unique nature of the Opera House, not all of the ideas that emerged from the visioning sessions have been incorporated. This presents an opportunity for local stakeholders to use these results as a jumping o ff point for additional cultural development in Staples.
A full record of Visioning Session results can be found in Appendix A.
The following details potential uses for each area in the Opera House building. This plan is meant to be a guide in developing the programming of the Opera House – new opportunities will arise, and this document should not be prescriptive in a way which excludes new ideas. Instead, this plan lays out optimal use, program examples and opportunities, and sustainable revenue streams for the long-term health of the building and the managing organization.
The Batcher Block Opera House can serve as a regional economic driver by incorporating both original programming aimed at audiences within a 90-120 minute radius as well as select, site-specific community-driven programming which may draw a more localized audience. The programming calendar will be highly collaborative in nature, ensuring a consistently full events calendar with many partners to aid in program success.
It is important to note that this building is NOT a catch-all for arts and culture in the region or even in Staples. Instead, this space can act as a natural complement to existing space and efforts across the community, finding a unique voice in its mix of original and site-specific performance.
The building will support a variety of uses, which include:
- A restored, highly unique performance space with diverse programming and rentals
- Flexible classroom / event space available for community and private events, including a demonstration culinary kitchen
- Concessions area to service events and rentals in the building
- Lodging space to host touring artists and educators as well as, long-term, an artist residency program
- Office and meeting space for Batcher Block staff as well as potentially for other area organizations
- Outdoor gathering and performance space
- Batcher Block Opera House “Museum” or other historical elements, drawing in tour groups
- Pop-up events such as Farmers Markets, Makers Markets, and more on the first floor
This section outlines:
- Operating Budget
The Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) 2020 Capital Projects support request presents a unique opportunity to bring this project to life. Should the project be funded, it will be up to the Steering Committee and local community leaders to raise the remaining amount, which will be necessary to receive any state funding. Therefore, it is imperative that a local group and the Batcher Block nonprofit begin working now on a fundraising plan in anticipation of the announcement of state funding. MMB requirements stipulate state funding should be encumbered within four years of the bond allocation, which provides the timeline by which matching funds need to be raised.
Detailed in this section:
- Capital funding
- The Capital Campaign: Crafting your message
- Action steps