Arts District forms around new masterpiece

In the eyes of the artisans and craftsmen working to restore the Historic West Bend Theatre, rechristened as “The Bend,” it has become a masterpiece.

The painters, carpenters, electricians, masons, plumbers, carpet layers and sound experts re-creating the theatre to its original 1929 glory are busting with pride over what they have accomplished together. They often say they can’t wait to bring their families to events so they can show off what their handiwork accomplished this past year.

One of them, Chuck Dwyer, local boy turned master artist, said, “It’s going to blow you away.”

I agree, but am hugely biased as part of the corporate group bringing the grand old lady back to life.

Dwyer’s contract for restoring the inside decorations ran out, yet he has been back just about every day to put the finishing touches on this architectural work of art where he watched movies as a lad. He considers the work his canvas and won’t stop until he is satisfied with the results.

This has been a community-wide effort. Supporters have given their funds, time and talent to make the artistry happen. More than 200 donors wrote nice checks. Some made in-kind donations.

In-kind examples: Tony Koebel of The Norbert is lending his carpentry talents to build a snazzy bar. (What’s an entertainment venue in Wisconsin without a bar?) Kathleen Menter donated her interior design expertise. A local wood worker carved eight decorative wooden tassels, and Dwyer colored them. David Bath, a “scrapper,” dismantled and hauled out the heavy old boiler at no charge. Chris Yogerst, who holds doctorate with a specialty in film history, dug out the 90-year history used for presentations. And many more.
The final elements of the project will be put in place this week, and the theatre organization will take over from MSI General, the design-build firm in charge.

Volunteers are being sought and signed on to help run the place. (If interested, call the Volunteer Center.)

In short, three years of work, two to get organized and raise funds and the better part of the past year to do the physical work, is coming to a crescendo.

The end result? The grand opening as a multi-purpose venue for music, classic movies, comedy nights and community events is coming up fast on March 14. Donors get the first crack at seats at the opening concert by the Cory Chisel Band . Remaining seats will sell to the public.

At the same time, tickets are selling fast for two concerts on March 27 and 28. The latter show featuring the Chicken Wire Empire Saturday night is mostly sold out. Check The Bend website for on The Moves Friday night.

Step back a bit and think about what is going on. What the community has created over the years is a Wisconsin Arts District. People will be travelling here to catch a concert, stay overnight, enjoy a meal at an assortment of fine downtown restaurants, get up in the morning to enjoy a walk, run or bike ride along the sparkling Milwaukee River on the Eisenbahn Trail or Riverwalk, visit the stunning Museum of Wisconsin Art, and tour the city’s leading outdoor sculpture collection.

They can also kayak and even catch an edible bass or pike right in the downtown. No lie; it’s happening, thanks to decades of river cleanup initiatives. There was a guy fishing opposite MOWA last Saturday morning

And there’s more to come. In 2021, the west bank of the river will be renovated as a companion piece to the grand project on the east bank in 2018.
The city library is also a local draw, and the city plans to add recreation rooms on its lower floor for such activities as dance lessons.

Former West Bend Mayor Kraig Sadownikow left office to lead the redevelopment of about half the old Gehl manufacturing site south of Water Street to include a Marriott TownePlace extended stay hotel and an office building.

It all adds up to an impressive collection of amenities. You want quality of life? You’ve got it.

Out of town guests and business visitors will love it.

I live in the community, but can see myself renting a room downtown for an arts entertainment weekend.

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