Excelsior Springs is a historic town that has chosen to cultivate the arts and entertainment in their community. This focus is why we have chosen to highlight them in celebration of 1 Billion & Rising with the story of how they saved and filled a vacant old church, developed a community asset, and provided the perfect place for a quality community theater to call its home. This project contributed to Missouri reaching $1 Billion in public and private investments.
The building at 114 North Marietta sat empty for a long time after the Marietta Baptist Church closed its doors. As time went by, the building remained vacant and deteriorated, as many old buildings do. The former church, built in 1903, began to face challenges that many long-time vacant buildings do, which made it less appealing for potential tenants resulting in it being classified as blighted. Thankfully, through a partnership in the DREAM initiative between the City of Excelsior Springs and the Downtown Excelsior Partnership, the building saw several major improvements using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to get it ready for the right tenant. The extent of the work that was done included a new roof, paint, electrical, HVAC, and various other small things.
With the building stabilized, it was ready for a buyer to continue the rehabilitation work to their own specification. Downtown Excelsior Partnership put the property on the market. The Slightly Off Broadway Theatre was looking for a new home, viewed the building, and fell in love the character and space it provided. The building became Slightly Off Broadway’s new home after six years of traveling performances following the loss of their original home in 2004. Kristi Shewell, the Board President and Resident Office Manager of Slightly Off Broadway Theatre, remarked “This building is truly perfect for us. The acoustics were good and we continue to optimize the quality of our sound through the carpet we installed and the baffles along the walls and on the ceiling. With the space this building provides, we were able to enclose the balcony for a place for our band to perform when they are not needed on stage.”
The development that went into this building has not only helped with recruiting businesses to grow the downtown district in the early 2000’s, but it also continues to draw people Downtown and contribute to Downtown Excelsior Springs’ nightlife. Even more, through partnering with Downtown Excelsior Partnership for their events, the theater has been able to host street performances on their off weekends and provide other entertainment downtown in seeing a show! Slightly Off Broadway has a variety of offerings for their community to satisfy anyone’s theater needs including small musicals, large musicals, straight plays, comedies, mysteries, Christmas shows, music review shows, and even a kid’s theatre camp and special performance for their parents. The kid’s theatre camp is done in partnership with the Excelsior Springs school district and provides elementary, middle school, and high school students with the opportunity to learn theater skills like projection, behind the scenes tech, and how to audition. This is accomplished through a week-long camp that is 5 hours a day where parents can see the fruit of their child’s participation in a production on the last day.
The arts are a very important aspect of community culture and having a place to come together to laugh, cry, and find joy in stories being brought to life on stage is simply irreplaceable. The theatre continues to represent why the arts are important as they draw attendees from the community and across the region. Lyndsey Baxter, the Executive Director of Downtown Excelsior Partnership, remarked, “Thanks to the theatre, this pretty significant square space building which is extremely difficult for small retail to fill is being utilized to its fullest potential as they continue to plan on utilizing the whole building resulting in this great historic building not remaining vacant.”