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A new year, a new for idea for the Delano Heritage Center

January 7, 2008

Gary Janisch proposed ‘The Performing Arts Center’ to the Delano City Council Tuesday

By Kelsey Linden
Staff Writer

One of the oldest buildings in downtown Delano is looking to become a hub of entertainment in the west metro.

Gary Janisch of Delano has a new vision for the Delano-Franklin Heritage Center, located at 140 Bridge Avenue.

Some remember the building as a city hall, and more recently it housed the Delano Public Library before the library relocated to the old State Bank of Delano building in 2004.

It was at that time that then-mayor Jon Steinmetz worked to produce the current Heritage Center, which provides the town with a look at Delano’s history.

Janisch, a resident of Delano since 1976, deeply enjoys the arts along with his wife, Peg.

When asked about the idea for a performing arts center, Janisch replied, “It happened back in August when Peg and I wanted to do a play at the church. It didn’t appear that it was going to work, so we kept thinking. There are so many other plays that we could do and we thought, ‘why don’t we try and find a building that might fit a live theater.’”

After taking a look at the heritage center building from top to bottom, Janisch became optimistic.

“I could see a real theater coming in there,” he said. “I did some sketches and took the dimensions down. I have an architecture and design background, so I gave it to my architect and I asked if it worked. He said it did, so he put it on his computer to confirm everything I’d done, and it came out the same.”

What appealed to Janisch more about this building was the history of it in relevance to the performing arts.

“There used to be productions done by traveling performers on the second floor over a hundred years ago,” Janisch said. “It goes way back.”

For Janisch, it did not seem like such a far-fetched idea. After hearing of many other towns, like Buffalo and Anoka, that have community theaters, Janisch felt that it was almost a necessity for Delano, growing at the rate it has.

“Delano’s growing to the point where there’s so many talented people here that we should try to get our own theater,” he said.

Janisch, himself, was in a rock and roll band during his early years, before meeting Peg. Both are hoping for a place in town where the talent can shine.

“We’ve always loved going to theater in the cities, or around the area, and Peg has always been in plays,” Janisch said. “We have just always enjoyed the performing arts.”

Janisch currently works in construction development to remodel buildings as a real estate developer, so taking on a project such as the proposed performing arts center in Delano, was not far out of his league.

Along with creating construction plans and cost estimates, he also sought out donors who may be interested in contributing to a non-profit project such as this. He said he has received individual pledges of $50,000, $15,000-$25,000, and several in the $5,000 range.

Janisch is refusing to cut any corners on the project.

“To do everything first class, and I think that’s the only way it should be done, it’s going to run around about $750,000,” he told the council Tuesday night.

Janisch has already raised $70,000, and said he can raise $100,000 if the council approves of the idea.

“I’ve had so many people approach me and say, ‘Can I give you a thousand dollar check?’ But the city hasn’t even voted yet, so I can’t take money from anyone at this time. I think also, people have a hard time committing until they know it’s going happen,” he said. “Hopefully, there’s going to be some major donors coming in.”

Janisch reiterated, “I know I can commit to raising the $100,000. There’s no question about that, but the city’s going to have to do between $250,000 to $300,000 on repairs for the building regardless. I’d hate for them to lose $100,000 that might be available to them.”

Janisch said he’s finding there are a lot of people that would also enjoy taking art classes.

“People are always looking for a place to display their art, or teach art,” he said. “There are also so many other community theaters that would love to help out and put on plays there, too.”

There would be more uses to the building than what meets the eye. With the theater seating that has been preplanned, the cushioned seats would be removable so it could accommodate other functions such as parties, dances, classes, or art exhibits.

“We are focusing on building the performing arts center, not the Delano community theater,” Janisch said.

Janisch has also taken care to include display areas in the lobby of the proposed theatre for historical items. Janisch is also targeting the use of the lower level lobby areas for meeting rooms – for the historical preservation committee and other community groups.

“I’m not sure everyone has seen the features of the historical society, but with a theater there, there’s going to be a lot more people coming through to see it,” Janisch said.

Janisch is hoping to begin renovation in April, and be able to have a theatrical production in the fall.

“I think we could have two plays performed a year here, easily. It would be a great success for this community,” he said. “I think it would help a lot of people. Everyone could use it, and the building fits it perfectly.”

One of the main concerns of the council was finding the right people to run and organize the building and operation.

The council felt the performing arts center would need a business plan, including details on marketing, programming, ticket sales, asset management, and bookkeeping functions.

Mayor Joe McDonald proposed a dedicated non-profit performing arts committee that would oversee operations of the center.

Another issue is the relocation of the heritage center, and the possible relocation of items of historical significance.

In 2004, the council agreed on creating the Historical Preservation Advisory Committee to oversee the heritage center and its operations in the building.

McDonald is optimistic about the merging of the two, and believes that both would be a great use for the building, with proper planning.

Delano-Franklin Historical Society President Steinmetz commented at the meeting that, “We do support this. This is a great development for our town. We have some concerns, but we think we can make this work, and we do support it at this time.”

The proposed performing arts center would accomplish a major goal for downtown – that the downtown’s future should focus on services and entertainment, and search for land uses that would bring people into the downtown to support its existing businesses.

With four restaurants in the downtown, a theatre with capacity to entertain up to 120 people would complement the city’s downtown plans.

In terms of city financing, Janisch would like the city to consider its commitment to help the fundraising take the next step.

The council is moving forward, and plans to discuss the project further at a future meeting. The consensus of the council was favorable for the idea, which feels it would be an asset to the development of downtown Delano.