The city of Albion is getting a new theatre space. Two vacant buildings downtown will turn into a multi-use facility for both Albion College and the community. Supporters say they hope it will help boost the local economy and revitalize the college’s theatre department.
Albion College Theatre Department Chair Zach Fisher says he wants his students to be able to go out into the world and have all the tools they need to succeed.
He says right now, a lot of the college’s theatre equipment is 20 years old and the general public rarely comes to see their plays.
“At the end of the day, we are a theatre that is on-campus, inside a walled citadel-like complex," he said.
"It’s not easy to find and so despite all our best efforts in advertising and yard signs and all the email blasts that we do, there is no substitute for having a venue that is right on the main drag of town.”
Though the details haven’t been worked out yet, Fisher says artists of all kinds will be allowed to book the theatre—not just students.
That’s because the theatre is part of a much bigger goal—to revive Albion’s downtown. Bill Dobbins is president of the Albion Reinvestment Corporation—a nonprofit that supports economic development in the city. He says like many industrial areas, unemployment in Albion had ripple effects downtown.
“With its employment base went certain things like the hospital and local big box stores and downtown—no bakery, no hardware,” he said.
The Midland-based Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation provided a $500,000 grant to Albion College for the theatre. Thanks to the foundation the city also has a new hotel and the Ludington Center—which houses Albion College’s institutes for business and public policy.
Dobbins says he hopes the theatre will spur other development.
“The more people that get in our downtown the more vibrant it’ll will appear," he said. "We will be able to attract certain things, events to that that will support the hotel or other entities or other businesses that are downtown.”
Dobbins says it will also insure that those two buildings next to the Bohm Theatre will be put to good use.
“Because frankly if they’re not utilized in some fashion, they’re going to continue to deteriorate and we’re going to lose more of the buildings that make up our downtown,” he said.
In a press release, Gerstacker Foundation Vice President Alan Ott said, “If there’s no community, there’s no college.” Albion Theatre Department Chair Zach Fisher agrees:
“We can’t just be a bubble. The students have to leave campus," he said. "There has to be something for them to experience once they walk off the manicured lawns of Albion College.”
The theatre is expected to open in 2019.