WHEATON – After years of closed door meetings, fundraisers and discussions, the renovation of the Wheaton Grand Theater is going public.
On July 7, the team behind the effort to reopen the historic downtown building held the first of a series of focus groups to let Wheaton residents offer suggestions about the future of the venue and its programming.
"There's been a lot of talk about this for so long," said Jim Murphy, awareness and events director for the Grand Theater Corp. "Now it's about the vision and coming up with the programming and seeing what the desires of the community are."
Murphy and Rick Erickson, the business consultant for the corporation and leader of the undertaking, are staging a series of "takeovers" at local businesses and other spaces where residents can learn about the latest plans for the building and share what they want to see play on its stage and screen.
Erickson said in his presentation during the inaugaural takeover at downtown brewery Dry City Brew Works it will cost $5 million to $6 million to revamp the theater, which he estimates will sell about 125,000 tickets per year for performances, classic movie showings and more.
He said he hopes to increase the seat count to nearly 700 to attract more big-ticket acts while keeping prices affordable.
Erickson said he wants to make it clear to residents and the city that he plans to run the theater like a business, not a charity. Ticket sales will include a small foundation fee to go to a fund to keep the theater afloat during leaner times, so it doesn't have to rely on donations to keep the lights on.
"We want to make money," Erickson said. "Once we are running, we don't want to be saying 'save the pathetic theater.'"
Drumming up interest and hearing about possible programming through the takeover meetings is an important part of getting enough feedback to ensure the theater offers what local residents want, he said.
Murphy said the theater will make an effort to ensure it is part of the community by hosting shows with local talent, all the way down to dance recitals.
"We want to build a sense of community ownership," he said. "We're seeking out those dance moms, seeking out those local musicians. Those won't make a lot of money ... but we want everyone to be a part of this and give the community as a whole a chance to have ownership of this jewel."
For more information about the corporation's takeover focus groups, or to share your opinion on the theater's future, visit wheatongrandtheater.com, facebook.com/WheatonGrandTheater or surveymonkey.com/r/Wgt-programming-survey.