Major Support Announced for College-Community Downtown Theatre Project

The Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation is providing $500,000 toward the renovation and reconfiguration of two adjacent vacant sites into a dynamic performance space

November 29, 2017

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Though they are currently two empty buildings side by side next to the historic Bohm Theatre in downtown Albion, thanks to a grant from the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation they won’t stay that way much longer.

A $500,000 grant from the Midland, Michigan-based foundation will help turn those sites at 117 and 119 S. Superior St. into a new shared-use studio/theatre facility that will serve Albion College students, faculty and staff in addition to the community as a local youth and adult community theatre.

“This generous gift by the Gerstacker Foundation shows again that the City of Albion and Albion College are working together to make sure each continues to thrive,” said Albion College President Mauri Ditzler. “I have always believed, and will continue to believe, that the College succeeds when the City succeeds and vice versa. This new theatre will offer an opportunity for our students to grow and learn as well as provide a great venue for the diverse and growing local theatre scene. This is a step forward for everyone who wants to see a vibrant downtown that is on the move.”

Alan Ott, vice president and treasurer of the Gerstacker Foundation, echoed Ditzler’s sentiment, stating that the grant benefits both the College and the City of Albion.

“If there’s no community, there’s no College,” Ott said. “The Gerstacker Foundation has an interest in paying attention to the community and being a proponent for providing funds to the school and the community. I’m an ex-banker and I believe in community development. I think Albion is one of the best colleges in the state and we want that reputation to continue.”

A photo of an empty storefront in downtown Albion.

Currently vacant, 117 and 119 S. Superior St. are just steps from the Bohm Theatre, which shows first-run films and hosts other events. The Bohm, which opened in 1929 and reopened in 2014 after a state-award-winning restoration and modernization following a six-year closure, has been a catalyst for Albion’s ongoing downtown transformation.

The new facility, targeting a 2019 opening, will provide creative, educational, rehearsal and performance space for Albion College students involved in theatre. It will complement the College’s current rehearsal/performance facility at the on-campus Herrick Theatre and add much needed capacity for students to create, develop and stage performances as well as to nurture the artistic community.

Zach Fischer, chair of Albion College’s Theatre Department, sees the facility as a new venue for students to produce and perform their work not only for the campus but for the community.

“They’re always excited about the opportunity to perform in Albion,” he said. “It’s a short walk but it’s a world away, and performing a play on Superior Street gives you an entirely different audience. They really want to do theatre for the community and they’re really interested in doing plays that loop in the community and speak to bigger issues in town. What could you do for an arts community that is more palpable than building an arts center?”

Though renderings for the new facility are still to come, the idea is to have a stage and lobby on the first floor with dressing rooms, storage and rehearsal space on the second floor.

The new center also represents another step in the renaissance of downtown Albion, said Dr. Bill Dobbins, a 35-year resident of the City and president of the Albion Reinvestment Corporation, a nonprofit group that works to bring new business to the community.

“With the Ludington Center and the Courtyard Marriott hotel (set to open in February) and the Bohm Theatre, this is another step in the journey that we’re on,” said Dobbins, a 1974 Albion College graduate. “Each project has an impact, but not nearly the impact of all of these combined. It’s awesome and it’s exciting. It’s another old building that’s going to be salvaged, and a real project’s going to come in there and continue to reinvigorate downtown.”

It’s also a benefit to the local arts community and provides much-needed space for youth programs, according to Sherry Grice and Marquetta Frost, co-coordinators of 4-H Creative and Expressive Arts of Calhoun County.

“The creation of the theatre will be beneficial to both Albion College and the greater Albion area by offering a facility that will focus on the performing arts and offer enrichment programs for the community to create and engage in as a whole,” Frost said. “It will also build on collaborative efforts to increase positive youth development and support for the performing arts within Albion and the surrounding areas.”