STAPLES -- The ideas for the Batcher Block Opera House could lead to an economic benefit of $1.7 million total for Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Otter Tail, Todd and Wadena counties yearly. Along with generating $21.8 million of economic activity during the rehabilitation time frame, according to a University of Minnesota Extension study.

“The closer you are to the building, the more impact you’re going to have, and so Wadena County is definitely going to have a major impact from this,” said Staples Economic Development Authority director Melissa Wyman.

A rendering of the restored opera house in Staples, as shared in March 2021.
Photo courtesy of Staples Economic Development Authority
A rendering of the restored opera house in Staples, as shared in March 2021. Photo courtesy of Staples Economic Development Authority

With plans for over 300 new programs offered there a year, you could enjoy touring artists from the region and nation, art education classes and even rent the space for a wedding. The ideas are part of a long-haul dream stretching at least four years, including regional and community member conversations over the past year, as Wyman said.

The three-story building would have flexible classroom spaces, living areas for artists in residency, museum space, community business workspaces, a rooftop garden, a culinary kitchen and of course the stage with space for approximately 250-350 attendees. There would also be additional outdoor and indoor stages. The programs and space could lead to 1,200 visitors a year and two full-time positions in the first year, as Wyman said.

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Batcher is on the National Register of Historic places list, which requires the opera house portion on the second floor to remain in its original design, besides being a beautiful detail that organizers want to highlight. This will be complete with Fresco painting by a local artist as well as the milk paint. Batcher is also considered one of the best preserved rural opera houses in Minnesota, and is one of 13 in the United States, according to Wyman.

The project is estimated at $14 million with 50% from state bonding dollars and 50% fundraising. After trying for bonding in 2020, the board will reapply again in 2022. The beginning phases of the capital campaign is ongoing as interviews are being completed for those interested in the project or donating.

The board will also form a non-profit for the opera house, though the city or EDA will own the building and lease it to the created non-profit. The building is privately owned now.

“There is so, so much that will be impacted by this project once we get it off the ground and going that it’s overwhelming almost how exciting that can be,” Wyman said.

If you’re passionate about the arts or community investment, reach out to Wyman at mradermacher@ci.staples.mn.us or 218-296-2254 about your interest in the project.

For more information, read the full economic impact study on the Pioneer Journal website.