The Grand Center for the Arts

NEW ULM – Anne Makepeace came to New Ulm 12 years ago with a plan to renovate a historic part of the downtown area, and after years of hard work and careful planning, the vision she once had is almost complete.

Makepeace had a grandfather five generations ago that built the building that is now home to The Grand Center for Arts and Culture. She moved to New Ulm in the early 90s and ever since then, she’s been very active in the community,trying to raise awareness for the arts.

On February 7, The Grand Center, which is located at 210 North Minnesota Street, is having it’s public Grand Opening event, which will include guided tours to all four levels of the building and music by the Scottie Miller Band. The art gallery will also be open.

Phillip H. Gross was the original builder of the Grand Hotel. The building was owned by the Gross/Makepeace family from 2000 until Oct. 2012, when the building was turned over completely to the nonprofit board.

“We’ve done a lot of things over time, we renovated the first floor and turned part of it into an art center,” Makepeace said. “Then we had this grand plan to create this non-profit that would then run this arts and cultures center, and that’s where we’re at now.”

The renovation includes a three-story addition with an elevator to all four floors, something Makepeace is very proud to have. The Grand Center also has live performance space on the first floor in the Kabaret, artist studios, a community gallery funded primarily through the New Ulm Area Foundation, music lesson space, a recording studio, as well as arts and cultural education space and space for the healing arts, such as yoga.

She decided to move to New Ulm at the advice of her father.

“It was my great, great, great grandfather, he built the building in 1875,” Makepeace said. “When I moved to Minnesota in 1981, my dad said our original ancestors were from New Ulm and that [I] should go there.”

Makepeace eventually came here in 1993 to find out more about her ancestors and she learned about the building she eventually would help renovate.

Makepeace decided that she wanted to take part in making The Grand Center more of an attraction for those who wanted the arts in downtown New Ulm.

The final renovation cost $2.4 million and took about two years to complete. The project was funded by donations and grants from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society, Mardag Foundation, New Ulm Area Foundation and Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council. There were an additional $450,000 in state and federal tax credits.

“I had a little daughter at the time, and we all came down and found out that the building was there and was on the National Register [of Historic Places],” Makepeace said. “It was sort of a dream to renovate it, so from 1993 to 2013, it’s nearly completed.”

The building’s main floor has the restaurant Pepperboy, which features a wood-fired pizza oven. Music is also on the first floor and there is a music studio above the stage on the second floor. There, the live music being played can be recorded or studio time may be purchased for musicians.

The newly renovated building also makes getting to the different levels much easier. A new elevator that runs from the basement to the third floor, something that the building has never had before, along with decks in the back of the building for artists and musicians.

“Instead of a little land-locked building, we’ve got this building that opens up into a courtyard backyard, with lots of opportunities for people who are artists or people who like the arts to come and enjoy,” Makepeace said.

Lisa Rieke-Knaak is the full-time Executive Director at The Grand. Jean Geistfeld, who is the Chairperson of the Grand Center’s Board, said that the music studio is something that a lot of local musicians can take advantage of.

“It’s something that a lot of artists or musicians aren’t able to afford to make a CD, and it’s a reasonably priced option for them,” Geistfeld said. “They would tend to go to the metro area, and we have that right here in our town, we have a lot of musicians in our area.”

For Makepeace, the completion of the project may be near, but for her, it may never be complete.

“It feels like there’s a lot left to do,” she said. “Now you have the building finished, but now we have to make it a living, breathing art center.”

Now that the building is finished, the next step is to lease the spaces to artists, which is happening now. They are trying to draw more arts activities and classes to the building as well.

The building itself has taken years of planning, but in the end, Makepeace thinks it’ll attract a large amount of people for the various events.

“I think it’s really important to a lot of young people and to attract a lot of younger people to the community to have this kind of a venue,” Makepeace said. “It gives them a chance to perform art, make art, do things you would see in a larger city. You’re attracting and keeping people here who have an interest in this. We did a lot of research before we decided to do this, and there’s a market for this.”

There are weekly musical acts in the building and there are plans for some more big events throughout the year, including the Citizen’s Bank Women’s Event, which will include music and entertainment.

Events on the third floor are also planned, such as healing arts and yoga, as well as artists who may want to rent space for exhibits.

Overall, its been an exciting time for Makepeace, Geistfeld, and the rest of The Grand Center’s Board.

“We are really excited, I think the thing is, it’s been a whole year of progress and now, to be at this point, it’s just a huge wow factor for the people who are involved,” Geistfeld said. “I think we all take a lot of pride on the board.”

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