Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: A cultural window to the Midwest

Katharine Enoch

Appleton&s new Performing Arts Center on College Avenue has been doing well since opening on Nov. 24. The PAC will provide another outlet for students and community members alike to become involved in cultural events.

There is a new window on College Avenue. And through that window, one might see the crisp red carpet, the freshly painted walls of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.The PAC expects 200,000 attendees annually in its new 2,060-chair main hall. But one must wonder how a performing arts center in Appleton, Wis. will be able to draw critically acclaimed talent to its remote location.

Ticket sales have been strong but last-minute since the PAC’s opening Nov. 24. The young facility is still settling into its role as a business. People are still testing the quality of the entertainment the PAC is bringing in before committing to a season pass.

The PAC’s executive director, Kirk Metzger, predicts that the center’s attraction will be strong enough to draw interest from areas as far as Milwaukee and even Michigan’s upper peninsula. Metzger also believes that the “more cultured” employees and affiliates of the larger Fox Cities companies, such as Kimberly Clark, will be drawn to the metropolitan style of entertainment that the PAC provides.

The facility itself, a $45 million project, was built by the Appleton-based Oscar J. Boldt Construction Company. It was a conscientious choice to employ a qualified local construction company. The process was “more than a contract,” said Metzger. “It was a real labor of love.” Metzger estimates the actual value of the facility to be around $80 million. He added, “It’s going to create a national stir for its design.”

Thriven Financial Aid for Lutherans’ gift of $8 million kicked off the construction of the center, which existed only theoretically for 15 years before construction began.

“There was always a desire. There was a need. But $8 million, that gets people’s attention,” explained Metzger. Kimberly Clark was also generous in their initial donation of $2.5 million.

All 14 communities of the Fox Cities agreed to financially support the center by raising hotel tax in order to afford the bond. Their unanimity is one example of the consistent support for the PAC among members of the community. Since the grand opening, Metzger observes, “objectors don’t seem to have issues anymore.” Lawrence president Richard Warch served on the fundraising committee for the center.

The coming of the PAC and its recent opening has changed the face of downtown Appleton. New businesses have opened in anticipation of the facility and the crowd it will attract, and older businesses have poured money into enhancing their stores.

Some of the more recent storefronts are Deja Vu, Flannagan’s, The Bar on the Avenue, Hill Creek Blues Club, and Something Sweet, all of which hope to profit from the new crowds on College Avenue.

The Radisson Paper Valley Hotel reports an apparent increase in the business of their restaurant, Lombardi’s, which serves the theater-going crowd for dinner as well as dessert after the shows.

“I think the [economic] impact has been huge,” exclaims Metzger, who also notes that the PAC has a psychological impact on the community.

So far, the PAC has succeeded in utilizing and booking world class as well as regional talent for the 2003 series, which opens with the Broadway success “Mamma Mia” and will close with Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.”

In addition, the center will present a variety of entertainment genres such as concerts, ballet, theatre, opera, educational events, lectures, seminars, and films.

Clear Channel Entertainment, the world’s largest producer and marketer of live entertainment events, is acting as co-presenter of the center and is a “huge powerhouse in providing [the PAC] access to top rate entertainment,” Metzger says. Their partnership with the center provides the influence needed to attract performers such as Judy Collins, London City Opera, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the Canadian Brass, all of which are on the 180-show lineup for the 2003 season.

Despite its success, the PAC has not turned its back on local talent. It is the new home to the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and hosts concerts featuring local talent such as the Appleton Boychoir, the White Heron Chorale, and Lawrence’s orchestra and choirs. Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble played the premiere concert for the workers and employees involved in the construction of the hall.

“You get in there and forget you are in Appleton. It looks much too classy,” commented Dan Van Sickle, who had the opportunity to sing backup to Kenny Rogers along with other Lawrence students.

Metzger expressed a particular interest in providing concerts that will appeal to Lawrence students. Recommendations and requests can be made on their website under “Contact Us.” Tickets can be ordered through the ticket office by calling (920)730-3760. The PAC also offers Student Rush Tickets available for $10 (cash only) with a student ID one hour before the show.

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