Wealthy Street Theater focuses on sustainability

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the Wealthy Street Theatre. This anniversary brought about discussions concerning the technological relevance of the theatre and more specifically its energy consumption. As a result, the theatre kicked off the Wealthy Theatre Sustainability Campaign in order to offset rising energy costs by reducing consumption.

Erin Wilson, director of Wealthy Theatre, commented, “This place belongs to the community, and we’re charged with the sacred responsibility of maintaining it, optimizing its usefulness, and respecting its traditions.” He continues by noting, “we could see energy costs overwhelming our bottom line, as they increase annually … we had to do something.”

Following an initial donation from the Wege Foundation, Rockford Construction became the theatre’s partner committed to implementing the improvements and providing the boost to the campaign that the theatre needed. The campaign relies mainly on the generosity of the community. Many local businesses and individuals have contributed monetary gifts and campaign materials to support the project. The average donation from middle class individuals so far has been $50. Nevertheless, the campaign still has over $100,000 left to raise.

Built in 1911, Wealthy Street Theater has played a critical role in bringing our community together for decades. The theater was built as a vaudeville theater and silent movie house and throughout the decades has grown and changed with the community around it. Today, the theatre serves as “a gathering space for discussion, performance, screenings and other events that bring the community together to experience important moments as one,”  Wilson commented.

What makes Wealthy Street Theatre so unique is that it is programmed by the community.

“Wealthy Theatre presently features whatever the community brings to our stage. People can enjoy concerts of all types, lecture series events, church-based events, movies, local independent films, stand-up comedy, Q&A panels and much more. There is no predominant type of event, which is extraordinary: we feature a welcome diversity of programming that is a beautiful reflection of the city and region we serve,” explained Wilson.

Located near the center of many neighborhoods in Grand Rapids, the theatre serves as a gathering space to bring people of all backgrounds together. Like most historic theaters, Wealthy Theater experienced periods of inactivity throughout the 1970s and was closed from the mid 70s through 1999.

Wilson remarks that “the reopening of Wealthy Theatre in 1999 marked the beginning of a revitalization, which Community Media Center (CMC) has since continued in our stewardship of this place, allowing the theatre to serve as the anchor of the neighborhood, and the catalyst to one of the greatest comeback stories in Michigan.”

Upon its reopening, Wealthy Theatre began to serve as a bridge between demographically and economically diverse neighborhoods. It specifically helped to diminish barriers between the East Hills and Baxter neighborhoods on either side of Wealthy by providing a centralized gathering point for discussions and entertainment.

It is for this bringing together of the community that Wealthy Theatre strives to maintain relevancy. They do this by consistently providing a variety of events from speakers, to concerts, to movies. They also strive to adapt to changes in technology which is the main reason for theWealthy Theatre Sustainability campaign.

Wilson concludes, “In this way, we address the relevancy issue by refreshing technologies, concurrent to responsible improvements in energy efficiency. We feel it would be short sighted to address relevancy without examining key vulnerabilities — in our case, we’re vulnerable to rising energy costs.”