The professional regional orchestra has announced plans to more than triple its footprint in downtown Muskegon by signing a long-term lease in the newly developed Russell Block building. The Symphony has secured 4,900 square feet on two floors of the building at 360 W. Western Avenue, allowing it to:
• Expand its current ticketing operation to better meet the needs of patrons
• Establish flexible administrative offices that will encourage collaborative work among the Symphony’s already close-knit team
• Create an intimate performance and education hall with seating for up to 130 people, allowing the Symphony to expand programming and education
West Michigan Symphony has secured a lead gift of $250,000 from Mike and Kay Olthoff, longtime supporters and patrons of the Symphony. Michael Olthoff is the CEO of Nichols Paper, a Norton Shores-based distributor of paper and packaging material and Kay Olthoff is a member of the WMS board. The Olthoffs have been generous supporters of the Symphony for more than two decades, most recently establishing a challenge grant in 2011 to ensure the sustainability of WMS programming and education. Nichols has been an annual sponsor of WMS concerts including a multi-media concert and series of events on sustainability.
“This capital campaign is the next step in the Symphony’s journey of inspiring and enriching the lives of our communities through music,” said Carla Hill, president and CEO of the West Michigan Symphony. “While our main performance home will always be in the Frauenthal Theater, our new facility gives us the opportunity to establish a new community gathering spot in the heart of the downtown. It extends our reach through innovative youth and education programs, multi-cultural performances and expanded artistic programming.
“We are deeply grateful to Mike and Kay Olthoff, who have jumpstarted our capital campaign with such a generous lead gift. The Symphony is fortunate to have the steadfast support of the Olthoffs, who encourage us to collaborate, establish partnerships and stretch our wings.”
The Russell Block restoration is the brainchild of Gary Post and his team at Port City Construction, who have been key figures in the revitalization of downtown Muskegon. They are working to finish the painstaking restoration of the building, which at one time was Daniels Office Supply. The building will be anchored by the West Michigan Symphony and will also feature retail and other tenants on the first floor. Russell Block sits next to the Century Club, another successful Post project that is now home to 16 retailers.
“We are happy to help the West Michigan Symphony in their creation of the new West Michigan Symphony Music Center,” said Kay Olthoff. “It not only is exciting and invigorating for the symphony, but it also helps in the continuing revitalization of downtown Muskegon."
The Symphony expects to start build out of its 4,900 square feet of space in Russell Block in October. This will include:
• New ticketing operations on the main floor, with improved visibility, convenient parking and greater access just steps off Western Avenue. The Symphony will be able to offer expanded hours of operations to better serve patrons.
• A significant build out of the entire second floor, allowing the Symphony to create a 2,700 square-foot performance hall, including lounge and dressing room area, that will be perfect for smaller, more intimate concerts and programming that would not be economically feasible in the larger venue. The new venue features a small balcony, expansive windows facing Muskegon Lake and an outdoor deck. When not used for performances, the Symphony can use it as a secondary rehearsal space or allow musicians to rehearse with ensembles or give private lessons.
• New administrative offices, also on the second floor, that will allow work stations and group work areas in a flexible configuration to enhance collaborative work between artistic, administrative and production staff. The lounge and reception area link the offices with the new performance venue.
• Much-needed storage space for the Symphony’s Instrument Petting Zoo, education and marketing materials, and performance hall equipment including tables and seating.
“This move will allow the West Michigan Symphony to establish a true downtown presence as one of Muskegon’s leading arts organizations, said Music Director Scott Speck. “A move to the Russell Block building will raise our profile and allow us to reach a new generation of music lovers through fresh education and artistic programs.
“I am particularly excited by the possibilities inherent in the new performance space we plan to create. This space will give us the opportunity to expand our programming by bringing in a rich and diverse array of performers from a wide variety of sources, cultures, traditions and styles that will attract new audiences.”
The Symphony anticipates that the new Russell Block performance hall will be self-supporting, generating revenue from rentals to community organizations and Symphony-sponsored performances. Hill and Speck are establishing a proposed two-year calendar of events with more than 20 education and programming opportunities in the new hall. These would include:
• Early childhood education classes and music resources to engage young children and their families
• Continued programming for elementary students who graduate from the Symphony’s popular and successful Link Up partnership with Carnegie Hall
• “Meet the Musician” and “Conversations with Scott,” allowing WMS supporters to engage in dialogue with the Symphony and its music director
• Recitals with West Michigan Symphony musicians and visiting guest artists
• Partnerships with arts organizations to bring emerging regional, national and international artists to Muskegon
• Expanded programming that would include cabaret shows, jazz concerts, world music and vocal performances
“Communities that are so fortunate to have an asset in the arts like the West Michigan Symphony thrive because of its presence,” said David Gerdes, board chair. “The Symphony, in turn, needs to foster growth and be innovative. This move began when Carla Hill’s vision for the Symphony was overlaid on the opportunity provided by the Russell Block development. She has worked passionately with our board, Scott Speck and patrons of the Symphony to make the business and artistic case for this exciting next chapter.
“We believe that our new facility will provide an additional asset to downtown Muskegon that makes it a more attractive destination for people to shop, work and live. The Symphony’s new space will strengthen the connection between us and the business community as we all look to support and grow economic development efforts.
“With the support of Mike and Kay Olthoff, the board of directors and other patrons in the community, the West Michigan Symphony is ready to take the next step on our musical journey by securing a venue that will become an important part of the cultural and business fabric for the region.”
To make a donation to the capital campaign or to receive more information on the project, contact Carla Hill at 231.726.3231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.