Wealthy Theatre To Be CMC East

December 30, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — As the Community Media Center acquires the Wealthy Theatre with intentions of maintaining its operations while converting a secondary building into a multimedia facility similar to its current location at 711 Bridge St. NW, the creation of twins CMC-Bridge and CMC-Wealthy marks the next stage in one long-term expansion plan and the salvation of another.

“I don’t think it is extreme to say that the neighborhood folks were desperate to see the MediaCenter move in and participate,” said CMC Executive Director Dirk Koning. “Their efforts to restore and renovate the Wealthy Theatre were stated quite clearly as an economic catalyst for the neighborhood.”

As Koning noted, the theater did serve as a catalyst for the East Hills and Baxter neighborhoods.

“Great things have been going on there,” he said. “Traffic is up and crime is down, business is booming and people are moving in. They were devastated to think that this theater that was heralded as the economic catalyst for the neighborhood would shut down and maybe be sold to a private provider or a church or something that didn’t have the same kind of public use.”

As a member of the Wealthy Street Business Alliance, ArtWorks Executive Director Cindy Koning (no relation to Dirk) was one a of many neighborhood representatives who helped lobby the CMC to come to

Wealthy Street

“We needed them as much as they needed the space,” Cindy Koning said. “The CMC moving in is really going to be a leap forward for the neighborhood, instead of all of us taking baby steps together at the same time.”

She said the vision of arts programming that was the Wealthy Theatre had to be let go. Whereas those efforts never really came together, it is her belief that an established entity like the CMC will be able to engage people in the neighborhood and help businesses grow in a way the theater never could.

“It’s going to attract new people to the neighborhood who are coming just for the CMC,” she said. “That is vital when you’re trying to change the image of a neighborhood.”

The theater had been the most visible and costly part of that revitalization effort to date, and despite its eventual failure, the most effective.

New development and businesses had come into the neighborhood in recent years, while others, like Verhey Carpets, are finally knocking the boards out of their windows.

“They always had some sort of plexiglass you couldn’t see through because for years and years their windows were getting smashed out,” she said. “Now they have a nice new awning with real glass in the windows.

“It has totally changed their business in terms of walk-in traffic, and that’s been happening in all kinds of storefronts up and down

Wealthy Street
.”

While the CMC has already taken over operations of the theater at

1130 Wealthy St.
, a $2 million capital campaign already underway will likely be only the first step in a number of regional expansions for the CMC.

Dirk Koning said that the CMC has outgrown its

Bridge Street
location, with staff and programs spread among three locations, including the Mobile Learning Lab for Information Education (MoLLIE) housed at SteepletownCenter and both the Grand Rapids Institute for Democracy and Community Media Services residing at the nearby St. James Catholic Church.

“We’re packed to the gilowacks here and we’ve had to move people out,” Dirk Koning said. “This is going to afford us the ability to move those people over to a new facility and then offer services to the community, so it ends up being somewhat of a branch office.”

Slated for a launch this spring, CMC-Wealthy will be located in the building adjacent to the theater at

1110 Wealthy St.
, currently known as the annex.

With 35 percent of its members hailing from the city’s southeast side, the CMC will work to duplicate its services at the new location. GRTV and WYCE will remain at CMC-Bridge, with services like the computer lab and equipment checkout to be available at both locations.

“We want to provide similar opportunities for our members in that space,” Dirk Koning said. “We’re just hoping to duplicate our efforts in another part of town and we’re hoping to do it in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on what we’re already doing.”

In addition to GRTV education and equipment checkout, CMC-Wealthy also will allow for GRTV programming to be produced on site.

A “hot studio” will be built into one of the storefront windows so that members can produce live television programming.

“It’ll be a self-contained turnkey studio in a storefront window,” Dirk Koning said. “It has a nice, arresting effect looking into it from the outside. People can do live call-in shows, Internet streaming, live TV and you can even do radio out of it.”

The new Wealthy location will fit in well with the CMC’s long-term strategic plan, he said.

“We’ve determined that we really weren’t looking to have bigger, better, more,” he said. “The magic of some of this technology is that it is versatile in time and space. We already have a network of 20 sites around town that are hardwired to allow for high-speed video and data traffic.”

In addition to the mobility granted through MoLLIE and similar equipment, the CMC has been actively working with partners to build “mini media centers” around town.

Among sites already wired for voice, video and data transmissions directly to the CMC are the UICA, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, and several of the city’s colleges and hospitals.

“We see a model where there is no reason that we couldn’t electronically bridge a lot of places that could benefit from the resources we have here,” Dirk Koning said.    

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