Negaunee City Council begins process to save Vista Theater building

On Aug. 26, 2020, due to a drain failure and rainfall, the Vista Theater building’s roof collapsed, leaving the building closed to the public since. During a special Negaunee City Council meeting on Tuesday, the council voted to move forward on a contingent purchase agreement with the Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council to help save the building. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

NEGAUNEE — The Negaunee City Council voted Tuesday to enter a contingent purchase agreement with the Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council to help save the historic Vista Theater building.

The agreement allows the city to purchase the Vista Theater building for $1, contingent on grant funding.

The Marquette County Land Bank Authority would then apply to the Michigan State Land Bank Authority’s Blight Elimination Program for funding to complete blight elimination, stabilization and demolition activities, according to the contingent purchase agreement.

“The transfer of ownership of this building places the grant application and the strongest position to be approved as well as for any future funding opportunities,” Negaunee City Manager Nate Heffron said. “The second agreement is an access agreement that will allow the Land Bank Authority access to the site before the grant dollars are provided.”

If successful, the grant would provide funding to construct a roof on the Vista Theater building and for its cleanup, aside from environmental factors that could cause further deterioration of the building, said Heffron.

On Aug. 26, 2020, the Vista Theater building’s roof collapsed due to a drain failure while rain fell. Since then, the building has not been functional or open to the public.

Before the roof collapse, in collaboration with the city, PAAC hired Thomas Gerdom to do a feasibility study and draw up renovation plans to help ensure the success of the Vista Theater moving forward.

Emmye Wiig, PAAC member and former PAAC board member, said in a letter that she is not against the city having ownership of the theater building but is concerned about what the ownership will look like.

She said she has faith in the plan that Gerdom gave PAAC. One example of the plan was a solution for ADA compliance, which would move the bathrooms from the upstairs to the downstairs of the annex building next door and create access to the theater from there.

“This is one of many suggestions by Thomas that saves thousands upon thousands of dollars and just makes sense if we are planning to move forward with saving this building,” Wiig said. “His input, that we all collaborated on, should be taken into consideration. Otherwise, what are we putting a roof on the theater for? What will this building actually be used for by the city if the plan isn’t to move forward with Thomas?”

According to Wiig’s letter, Gerdom’s plan for an arts hub would be something anyone in the community and surrounding area can use who wishes to participate in the arts.

“This arts hub is an amazing opportunity for the city of Negaunee and the downtown businesses. With multiple income sources, once the building work is complete, I believe Thomas is correct and this would be a self-sustaining enterprise,” Wiig said. “I honestly personally would have given up if it wasn’t for Thomas’ belief that this building and organization can still be saved.”

The estimated total cost of the project is $470,000. Roof repairs would cost roughly $359,000 and cleanup estimated at $76,000.

Heffron said that any financial gaps would be the Marquette County Land Bank Authority’s responsibility to cover.

The city council voted 5-1 in favor of entering the agreement to help save the building. Councilman Matt Howard voted against it.

“It’s worth a try. You know, things could happen after we do buy it and if we do get the agreement, the walls could crumble but I think it would cost more money to rip it down if that came to pass,” Councilwoman Dana LaLonde said. “So we need to be good stewards and try.”

For more information about the Vista Theater and PAAC, visit online at facebook.com/paacvistatheater. For updates on the project, visit the city’s website at cityofnegaunee.com.


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