By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
NEW ULM — The Grand, grandiose plans are coming to fruition.
By summer, work should be completed on a $2.1 million restoration that will turn the historic hotel in downtown New Ulm into a one-stop shop for arts and culture.
A yoga studio here, musician practice areas there, an art gallery — all complementing existing building amenities that include a cabaret and a restaurant.
“We’re trying to cut a pretty wide swath as far as what people are interested in,” said Grand Center for Arts and Culture Board President Dick Kimmel.
Construction began last fall on the center, operated by a nonprofit organization that is benefiting from a host of grants, donations and, vitally, nearly half a million dollars in state and federal tax credits.
With the building on the National Register of Historic Places, renovations must adhere to period-correct specifications that substantially adds to the tab.
“But it’s well worth it because we got $450,000 worth of tax credits (earmarked for historically correct renovations), and in the end you get a better building,” said Anne Makepeace, whose great-great grandfather Phillip Gross built the Grand’s forerunner hotel in 1856.
“She’s driven to do this right,” Kimmel said of Makepeace, whose family donated the building to the arts group.
That 1856 hotel, the first in New Ulm, burned down in 1860 and Gross replaced it with another, which fire destroyed in 1875.
Gross immediately built anew, this time commissioning a distinctive brick Italianate-style structure.
The restoration involves 16 second-floor hotel rooms that are being converted into assorted artist spaces. That floor also will have a recording studio right above the first-floor cabaret stage.
“So if someone comes in and wants to record a live album, we’re already wired for it,” Kimmel said.
The building’s top floor will contain an apartment that could be used for potential artist-in-residence programs. The building also will have a three-story elevator.
Makepeace said $300,000 to $400,000 still must be raised to cover restoration costs, though some of that will be covered by further grant funding.
Nicollet native Lisa Knaak, recently named executive director for the Grand Center for Arts and Culture, said the uniqueness of the facility dictates that it have a soft opening before making it fully available to the community.
“We don’t want to open the doors until we’re absolutely ready.”