by CHRIS ROGERS
The city of Winona is moving forward with roughly $1.8 million in renovations at the Historic Masonic Temple Theatre. The city is currently advertising for bids and plans to award a contract in March, with construction slated for this spring, summer, and possibly fall.
This project will not provide everything the building needs. There are still more upgrades on the city’s wish list for the building — air conditioning, for one — but this project will upgrade the theater, seating area, stage equipment, electrical systems, and some bathrooms. It represents a significant step toward the city’s goal of making the Masonic Temple a high quality performance venue for downtown Winona.
In his presentations to the City Council, Winona Park and Recreation Community Services Director Chad Ubl was careful to point out the limits of the project’s scope. Renovations will largely be limited to the second floor of the Masonic Temple — the main floor of the theater — and not its third floor. The project will replace the stage’s broken rigging system, repair the stage floor, update the main women’s restroom, add a unisex accessible restroom, upgrade the building’s electrical system, and make plumbing improvements.
When Ubl shared nearly complete construction designs to the council on January 16, the total cost estimate was $1,875,000. That was $75,000 over the funding for the project. However, the $1.875-million figure included around $190,000 in contingency funds — a cost-estimate cushion just to be safe, which is standard practice — and Ubl asked designers to include several options for cutting the project budget, if necessary. Those potential “deducts” included a proposed, portable stadium seating system that would seat 279 people and lighting upgrades on the stage. If contractors’ bid prices are too high, the city could cut these improvements from the project and fund them later. City staff plan to open bids on March 1.
The city borrowed $5 million last year to fund this project, the nearly finished Levee Park project, and various other park and recreation-related repairs and improvements.
The Masonic Temple will still be a venue for Mid West Music Fest on April 27-28.
Funding secured for historic drops
It is now clear that the city has enough money to fund the restoration of the 10 historic backdrops the City Council agreed to save and return to the stage after the remodel. When the council agreed to save 10 out of the collection of 98 hand-painted drops last spring, it was not clear how work to repair water stains, rips, and damage to the fabric of the drops themselves would be funded. The council agreed to sell most of the collection of drops, use the proceeds to fund the restoration of the 10 drops, and let private donors fund the rest. However, at the time, some city officials were not confident that the sale would attract any buyers or that donors would be able to raise enough funds in time.
The collection did sell. The Des Moines Scottish Rite Consistory, a Masonic history organization, purchased 73 drops and various scenic pieces for $10,010. Earlier this winter, the organization moved the drops from the Masonic Temple and loaded them up itself. “Excellent news,” Winona City Council member Michelle Alexander said.
The city held onto 15 drops — not just 10 — because donors had expressed interest in trying to raise funds to restore more than 10 drops. Between the $69,000 privately fundraised and the $9,000 that the Des Moines consistory sale netted, the city has enough to restore 13 drops, according to a restoration bid submitted by Kimberly Lawler and accepted by the council this month. Lawler plans to clean, repair, and touch up the historic drops after construction is completed, possibly in August.
Ubl reported that once restored, the extra three drops could be hung at the front of the stage at no extra cost. Last fall, he pitched the council on a plan to use three historic drops in place of modern curtains and a screen for showing films. Ubl said a largely white historic drop could be used for showing films; Fine Arts Commission member and former Frozen River Film Festival Director Crystal Hegge said that it would less than ideal for that.