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A doable thing (12/16/2007)
By John Edstrom

Having been duly and properly notified in advance, for which we express our gratitude, the Post attended a news conference at City Hall Friday morning in which Mayor Miller dropped something of a bomb on the community, or at least those who have been following plans for the Levee Park area, and the projected Great River Shakespeare Festival/conference center planned for the area.

Plans have changed, said the Mayor. The Shakespeare theater/conference center has morphed into a Winona State University athletic and convocation center which would also house the Shakespeare and Beethoven festivals. With the WSU connection, it most likely will not be located on the river or even downtown.

This concept emerged some six months ago from a private business group and was not communicated to the public, or city staff working with the Shakespeare Predesign Committee, or even the city manager, as Mayor Miller "wanted to keep everything kind of cool." I will leave it to the Mayor to explain this in greater detail to the committee volunteers and architectural firms who have wasted their time, but the lives of such professionals are full of monkey dances availing nothing, and city of Winona volunteers even more.

And that concern is reduced to a mere cavil by the emergence of what seems a workable plan to provide real answers to a number of needs. As a recent editorialist pointed out, the only support for a Shakespeare theater/conference center to be built on the river was the $250,000 from the state to study the idea. Otherwise, the concept lacked sufficient need, users, or funding to become a reality. The projected facility as reconfigured will serve as a suitable basketball arena and convocation center for WSU, while providing a home for Shakespeare, Beethoven, and visiting attractions. Local business and philanthropy will provide access to real, not phantom, funding, and of course there is now the state facility involved, which has a real need. The original $250,000 can be put to sensible use as seed money for a doable project, rather than wasted on pie-in-the-sky plans for fantastical schemes.

Those of us who had hoped to redeem the old middle school auditorium for Shakespeare and/or Beethoven will be a bit disappointed by this turn, but must remember that what always underwrote that facility was, after all, basketball also.

And one would expect that now that the projected theater/conference center has sunk, the Levee's only real asset, the Wilkie, will get a reprieve.



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