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Historic Stevens Point Theater Renovation Project Gets Lifeline With City Contribution

City Inspectors In Stevens Point Marked Building For Demolition In July

Fox Theater in Stevens Point
The Fox Theater in downtown Stevens Point first opened in 1894 as the Grand Opera House. Demolition on the building is now expected in coming weeks. Rob Mentzer/WPR

A historic theater in downtown Stevens Point may have been saved from the wrecking ball.

The Stevens Point City Council on Tuesday voted to contribute up to $250,000 to a nonprofit group’s efforts to renovate and repurpose the Fox Theater. The efforts had been in peril after a city inspector in July gave owners 90 days to address structural issues with the building or see it demolished.

“This will allow us to go in and actually fix the problems that exist with the structure currently so that the building is prepared for development and can be used successfully in the future,” said Greg Wright, executive director of CREATE Portage County.

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Wright said the group will use the infusion of city cash to address the immediate needs, which will allow the group to raise the remainder of a $3.5 million capital campaign. CREATE has raised about $1 million for the project.

In April, CREATE announced plans to turn the vacant theater into the home of its IDEA Center, a community hub that serves as a coworking space, a business incubator and a place for arts and community groups to meet.

The IDEA Center is about three years old, and Wright said it has launched some 50 new businesses and served as a home for groups of wood carvers, jewelry makers, fabric artists, video producers and more. About 200 people use the IDEA Center each month. It’s housed in a temporary space in Stevens Point owned by the county; the renovated Fox Theater would be its permanent home.

Dozens of community members, including those who’ve been involved in IDEA Center projects, spoke in support of the project at a city committee meeting and at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Wright said it was “humbling” to see a “diverse age group, racial group and interest group of people come together and say, ‘This is supporting us.’”

The Fox Theater first opened in 1894 as the Grand Opera House. Through the years, the space hosted vaudeville shows, silent movies and golden-age Hollywood films. It’s been vacant since the mid-1980s.

The city’s financial backing will allow the group to move forward immediately with the first phase of the construction project, Wright said, and to address inspectors’ concerns. The fundraising campaign to complete the full project will continue.

“Our thing has always been, we wanted that money to be a long-term investment and not a short-term investment,” Wright said. “We wanted to make sure when we went to address the building, we addressed it in a way that positioned it well for construction in the future.”