Blue Water gets OK from Wayzata City Council for new theater space

Youth theater company will move into century-old church on Rice Street

The Wayzata City Council has approved a conditional use permit for Blue Water Theatre Company to use the church building at 605 Rice St. as its new rehearsal and performance space. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Jason Jenkins)
The Wayzata City Council has approved a conditional use permit for Blue Water Theatre Company to use the church building at 605 Rice St. as its new rehearsal and performance space. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Jason Jenkins)

There was cause for celebration from members of Blue Water Theatre Company attending the Jan. 17 Wayzata City Council meeting. The council approved a conditional use permit for the nonprofit youth theater company to use the church building at 605 Rice St. as its new rehearsal and performance space.

The current owner of the building, Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka, is constructing a new building that will open this spring in Wayzata’s Holdridge neighborhood. Church officials began looking for a potential buyer for the historic church once its building plans were approved this past June.

Blue Water will use its new space primarily for rehearsals and other in-house activities, and host the theater group’s six to 10 smaller productions each year. The group plans to continue renting offsite auditoriums for its four mainstage productions. The performance space will include up to 125 seats for audience members.

Work to convert the church into a theater will be minimal. Improvements include adding flexible seating, theater equipment for performances and updating the existing monument sign with the theater company’s name and logo. The theater company is also considering adding an additional restroom on the main level.

This past summer, an event honored the 100-year anniversary of the historic church building, which has served as home to three congregations: Wayzata Community Church (1916-1949), Wayzata Free Church (1952-1965) and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka (1965 to present).

The building’s blueprints were drawn by prominent Minneapolis architect Harry Wild Jones, who was also behind the designs for Butler Square and the iconic Lakewood Memorial Chapel in Minneapolis. Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As part of the review process for Blue Water’s plans, the city’s planning commission requested information on traffic patterns for pick-up and drop-off and how on-street parking would be regulated to lessen impacts on surrounding properties and public streets.

Blue Water’s plans are to use the side door entrance along Walker Avenue as the main entrance to the building and use the east side of the street as the pickup and drop-off area.

In an effort to ease potential traffic issues and allow more space for two-way traffic, the council approved a resolution expanding a no-parking zone on the east side of Walker Avenue between Wayzata Boulevard and Rice Street.

“With that no parking zone there today, the temporary nature of having that pickup and drop off can occur there without adversely impacting traffic and parking within the neighborhood,” said Jeff Thomson, the city’s director of planning and building.

Thomson also noted that the hours of theater productions or amplified sound are be limited to no later than 11 p.m., due to the close proximity of several homes.

When the theater hosts performances, parking demands will be accommodated with existing on-street parking, and by Blue Water working with the city and St. Bartholomew’s Church to use their parking lots in the evenings when the lots are available.

The building will remain zoned for institutional use, which is the city’s zoning distinction for religious institutions, schools and other similar uses.

Charlie Leonard, executive and artistic director and founder of Blue Water, took to the podium and expressed his excitement toward the opportunity to remain in Wayzata.

“We’re just really thrilled about this opportunity for us,” Leonard said. “We’re excited about what we are bringing to the community and excited to be here forever.”

For its first two years, Blue Water rented space from local schools and churches before moving into an empty storefront in the Wayzata Bay Center in 2009. In 2011, the company moved into its current rehearsal studio in the Wayzata Home Center.

“We’re thrilled that you’re still engaged and you’re moving this project forward. … The stars seem to be aligning a bit on this one, so thank you,” Mayor Ken Willcox told Leonard.

Members of the council also voiced their excitement for the project.

“I fully support it. I love the concept, love the idea and as a father of young kids, I love bringing theater and arts here to the city,” said Councilmember Dan Koch. “It’s a great thing for families.”

Founded in 2007, Blue Water has presented more than 30 productions and is made up of 150-200 actors from schools all over the metro area. The group consists primarily of actors in grades 6-12, but over the past few years, Blue Water has expanded programming to include actors as young as third grade and as old as college age.

Blue Water is planning a public open house 4-8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, at the church. Guests are invited to take a tour of the building and learn more about the theater group’s plans.

For more information on Blue Water, visit bluewatertheatre.com.

Contact Jason Jenkins at [email protected]