Historic theater in Stevens Point faces likely demolition

STEVENS POINT, Wis. — An effort to save a historic theater in downtown Stevens Point appears at an end after a nonprofit said it couldn't meet requirements or a city timeline for renovations.

The organization CREATE Portage County has been running a $3.5 million campaign to turn the vacant Fox Theater into a maker space and community arts center. But the organization recently said it could not meet the renovation requirements and that demolition "appears inevitable at this point."

The announcement comes after months of negotiations between the group and the city, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. In July, a city inspector issued an order to raze the century-old building.

The city eventually granted CREATE an extension on its three-month raze order. Last month, the Stevens Point City Council voted to contribute up to $250,000 to the renovation. CREATE executive director Greg Wright said at the time the money would allow the organization to fix structural problems with the building.

More than $1.3 million has been pledged to the project. But contractors could not meet city deadlines for mid-December, Wright and CREATE board president and founder Bill Schierl said in a statement.

Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza said the central Wisconsin city is "losing an icon."

"I know there is a very nostalgic connection to a lot of people," Wiza said. "It has been part of our downtown for many generations, and it's sad that we're going to have to see it go."

But Wiza said the building is creating public safety hazards, including falling shingles on nearby properties, and that city engineers now consider it too risky to allow the building to remain standing through the winter. Demolition is expected to begin in the coming weeks.

The Fox Theater's history traces back to 1894, when it opened as the Grand Opera House and hosted vaudeville. The building has been vacant since the mid-1980s.