Exploring a Vision for Re-Activating the Historic Sparta Opera House
Members of the Sparta Opera House Project task force were very excited by the dozens and dozens of community members who were able to join them in touring the opera house during one of the first opportunities provided in January and February to view the space. Many great ideas were offered for the use of this second-floor space during the tours or in the online survey prepared by the project task force.
Additionally, thanks for all the feedback through the online survey on the future of the space, there appears to be no shortage of passion behind this project. Community members of all ages and from numerous groups provided input regarding amenities Sparta is missing through an online survey. Lists of activities, organizations, and businesses that would add vibrancy to the community through the use of this space were also suggested as well as sound ideas regarding possible events which might be held in the opera house facility are currently being compiled and organized. These lists will aid in the determination of the future of this space clearly seen by all who visited as a unique and intriguing hidden gem.
The task force is so grateful for the community engagement seen thus far. This factor is absolutely necessary for the success of whatever project is determined to be the most desired and best use for the Sparta Opera House. Future funding, such as grant requests, requires this engagement which will continue to be sought.
Information which would assist in determining the viability and obtaining structural and operational plans is currently being tethered by the task force. All conversations are still at beginning levels. As with all quality projects, time well spent is a necessity.
After decades of sitting empty and vacant, there is a new spark of energy for revitalizing a critical, high-potential-impact space in Sparta’s historic downtown district. Sparta’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has launched an initiative to explore the possibilities, potential, and viability of activating the space widely known as the former Sparta Opera House.
Located above the North Kent Eagles at 186 East Division Street, the historic opera house space was completed in 1914 and originally could seat over 500 people. For a number of years, the space was successfully utilized for live plays, community dances, and even film exhibitions. Sparta student productions were held there regularly, as well as major local boxing matches that would draw participants from as far away as Grand Rapids and Muskegon.
However, during the 1930's, as the uses of the first floor changed from restaurant to pool hall to private club, the opera house space became used primarily for storage. It has essentially sat unused since the 1940's.
In December, members of the DDA task force approached the Board of the North Kent Eagles and requested the group's "blessing" to formally explore the possibilities for the former opera house space, including soliciting input from the greater Sparta Community. The task force is going into the listening process without any preconceived notions about what the final results will be.
Some preliminary examination work was done in 2011, putting a price tag on repairs and rehabilitation at approximately one million dollars. However, that did not address things like an operational model, programming, business plan, and the like.
While the thought of undertaking a project to reactivate the space is exciting to many local folks, it is likely to take a year or more to arrive at the point of answering the myriad of questions and determining what is actually feasible
Anyone interested in providing their input into the process or learning more about the initiative should contact SpartaOperaHouse@gmail.com
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