What to do with the Old Roosevelt, a question for the community

Photo by John Cribb Old Roosevelt School on Broadway, Red Lodge, is the subject of many local meetings to find its best use.

 A performing arts center, a convention center, mixed-use facilities, retail space, etc.--the list could go on. But to help narrow down and brainstorm ideas on how to best utilize the space at the Old Roosevelt, the Beartooth Community Front Forum held its annual public forum. On March 29, entitled Restore, Reuse, Revitalize: The Future of Old Roosevelt, community members toured the building and heard presentations from professionals experienced with the subject. They included preservation Architect, Steve Adler; Susan Denson-Guy, executive director of the Emerson Arts & Cultural Center in Bozeman and Kelly Dowdell, executive director of the Shane Lalani Center for the Arts in Livingston. Following the presentations, attendees broke out into groups to discuss vision, feasibility and sustainability. Over the past two years a group of community members dedicated to supporting the arts, have been working towards establishing a place where the many facets of the arts can come together. After the organization, A Place for Our Arts was created, they began looking at various existing buildings in Red Lodge and surveyed the community. Ultimately, the group decided the Old Roosevelt building would be the focus of their endeavor. Beginning the forum, Adler spoke about the benefits of preservation and how reusing old buildings for a different function can appeal to the community.

He explained that preservation not only helps the economy by creating jobs, bringing the town more business and increasing property values, but it’s also better for the environment than starting to build from scratch. “The greenest buildings around are the ones that are already there and can be reused. By recycling a place, it already has tangible qualities and it uses fewer new resources.” He further detailed possible funding sources for preservation projects, including crowd-funding and said making it a non-profit can be more beneficial. “If you take profit out, it’s almost instant credibility.” Choosing what best to make of the space and creating a detailed plan was his final thought. “Let the building tell you what it’s geared to be. Preservation can get more expensive if you force a bad fit.” Next on the panel, Denson-Guy spoke about the evolution of the Emerson Center. Originally built in 1918 as an elementary school, in 1992, a group of community members formed a non-profit and purchased the building before its demolition. Through years of renovation the building now functions successfully as a cultural and arts center. Hoping to use the center as a model for the Old Roosevelt, Denson-Guy explained their business model for the center’s many uses.

“There are 44 spaces available for individuals/businesses to rent and all tenants fall into the art and culture component. We have a staff of seven and the hardest working board of directors. There are three spaces for community use; we have a ballroom and a theater that seats 750. We rent everything, if it’s big enough to fit a desk in, we’ll rent it.” The tenants that utilize the center, she explained, vary in trade, including advertising, architectural design, yoga, cooking, African drumming, etc., and they keep rent prices competitive to those downtown. They host gallery exhibitions, educational workshops and have a restaurant on-site. Some issues to consider when planning for the Old Roosevelt she said were long-term maintenance and emergency situations, suggesting starting a reserve to avoid troubles. Good governance standards, transparency and creating concrete, sustainable goals have all been vital in the Emerson’s ongoing success. Continuing with presentations, Dowdell spoke about the Shane Center’s presence in the community. Also once an old school, the mission of the center is to “Strengthen the community through the participation in the arts.” According to their website, “Early in 2009, Crazy Mountain Productions approached the city of Livingston with the idea of a multi-use community arts center in the historic building. In June of 2009 the city agreed to donate the property. A capital campaign was launched, and renovations began immediately.” Dowdell explained they had looked at various needs within the community and designed the center based those conversations. “We brought all the arts groups together. We were careful to collaborate with everyone and it really was a need for space. Every one of the groups have somehow utilized the space.”

The center also partners with the local schools, something the Old Roosevelt can consider as a viable option as partnerships also opens up more grant opportunities. The question of who attends performances was asked. Both centers said they rely on the community to fill the seats. But, because the Shane Center is right off Highway I-90, they also get more regional support. After hearing the stories of the two centers, both representatives said they would be willing to help Red Lodge during the process of transforming the Old Roosevelt into something special. Although there was much talk about art being a major component in the building’s design, Tracy Timmons of the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, said the reason for the forum was to get an overall understanding of the various needs within the community and see how feasible the project can be.

“We need to look at what steps to take to get there and how we can make this sustainable.” Breaking into discussion groups, attendees discussed the vision of Old Roosevelt. In general, mixed-use space was a popular theme. The groups examined the idea of a performing arts center to also include educational, retail, and art-related spaces for rent. Addressing feasibility, the groups decided a tenant survey would help see who would be interested in renting a space and create a floor plan to see “what spaces are being lusted for.” Finally, sustainability was considered. To make a center most profitable, Dowdell said 60 percent of the revenue should come from programing (i.e. rentals, box office, concessions) and 40 percent from grant funds. With all the ideas out on the table, A Place for Our Arts plans to develop them into something more concrete, forming committees, assessing budgets and keeping the process alive.