La Crosse Community Theatre and Viterbo University

A Vision for Collaboration

Nov. 9, 2011


The La Crosse Community Theatre and Viterbo University, in examining their organizations’ individual aspirations, will greatly benefit from collaborating to build a mid-size performance theatre on donated land on the beautiful Mississippi River. This collaboration will result in an artistic, architectural and economic impact and will serve to enrich the lives of those who visit or live in our community. By collaborating, the partners share their strengths and philanthropic opportunities allowing for a performing arts center to be achieved, sooner, rather than later, than if done separately or independently. 

La Crosse Community Theatre: Since its founding in 1962, the La Crosse Community Theatre has enriched many lives and has touched many people. In 1968, a "temporary" home located at 118 Fifth Avenue North, the former 5th Avenue Movie Theatre, was purchased. Renovations established a live theatre that met basic needs. After 43 years the current home on Fifth Avenue no longer meets the needs of modern audiences and volunteers.

In 2007, a generous offer of land was presented to the La Crosse Community Theatre and in March 2010, a tax exemption for the property was established by state legislation. Subsequently, the Board of Directors of the La Crosse Community Theatre advanced its plans to build a beautiful, 450-seat theatre located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the heart of the La Crosse Arts District in downtown La Crosse.

La Crosse Community Theatre Project Goals

  • Serve the La Crosse community, audience, volunteers, and staff with a centralized lobby, and larger and better equipped spaces
  • Provide educational and performance opportunities to youth and adults
  • Function in partnership with other arts and cultural organizations in the 7 Rivers Region, filling a need for mid-size performance space
  • Boost economic development in the La Crosse area, presenting a significant cultural draw for potential future employees and employers
  • Provide an anchor for a growing and exciting arts district including The Pump House Regional Arts Center and the Grand River Terminal Artist Lofts

Viterbo University: In 2008, the Viterbo University Board of Trustees approved a new strategic plan: The University of Opportunity: Hope and Help. The plan outlined four institutional priorities for 2008-2013 – Academic Distinction; Catholic and Franciscan Identity; Access, Affordability and Success; and Enrollment Growth. Commensurate with the approval of the strategic plan, the Board of Trustees approved a new campus master plan in May 2009, which identified among other needs the expansion of the Fine Arts Center, to accommodate a new 450–500 seat performance theatre. This facility would complement the heavily scheduled 1,100-seat Main Stage Theatre, the 144-seat Black Box Theatre which lacks access for the disabled, and the 170-seat Recital Hall.

One of Viterbo’s goals for academic distinction is that of obtaining national distinction in the fields of music, music theatre and theatre. These programs currently attract exceptionally talented students and are led by outstanding faculty. Growth opportunities are enhanced by the addition of a medium-size performance space. Acceptance is selective and talented applicants are not admitted because there are insufficient venues for performances.

Viterbo University Theatre Project Goals

  • Establish programs of national distinction in theatre and other areas of the performing arts while maintaining Viterbo’s reputation as the Epicenter of the Arts in the Coulee Region.
  • Complete the next critically important project identified in the campus plan identifying the need for a mid-size performance space.
  • Compete nationally for the most talented and selective performing arts students.
  • Provide current students with more diverse performance opportunities and a bridge to the real world experience that a downtown/Viterbo-Community Theatre collaboration would provide.
  • Build on Viterbo’s reputation for innovation and collaboration to build a successful alliance which benefits the community.
  • Open the door to new collaborative channels that would benefit the community and students in areas of internships in other academic programs such as accounting, marking and promotion, servant leadership, arts administration.



Convergence of Opportunities: Here then converges an opportunity for collaboration between the La Crosse Community Theatre and Viterbo University that benefits each organization, the downtown Arts District, and the community. A new downtown performance theatre that meets the needs of both the La Crosse Community Theatre and Viterbo University has captured the imagination of the respective leadership of the La Crosse Community Theatre and Viterbo. Unaware of any university/community theatre partnerships in the nation, we looked to the successful partnership between the Boys and Girls Club of La Crosse and Viterbo University as a blueprint for another national, unique collaboration model in the City of La Crosse.

Challenges: The most formidable challenge has been overcome through a mutual willingness to imagine the opportunities of collaboration, rather than the loss of identity and propriety utilization. Scheduling will be difficult but a modeling of a three-year schedule has shown that the production needs of each organization can be met. The success of the Mathy Center has demonstrated that shared values, proper oversight and good faith management can solve anticipated as well as unexpected problems.

Imagine the Future: The La Crosse Community Theatre has a marvelous history of entertainment and has dreamed of a new performance space for decades. Viterbo University has an outstanding reputation in the arts and has goals to enhance its distinctiveness and to grow its enrollments in the School of Fine Arts. Our preliminary assessment is that our respective organizations and our community have much to gain by working together on the establishment of a new performing arts center on the banks of the beautiful Mississippi River. Separate yet concurrent planning has crossed a path of opportunity. We invite our respective boards, professional artists, administrators, faculty, alumni, benefactors and friends to join us as we imagine a very special project, in a very special place, for a very special community.