SHELBYVILLE — The end was approaching, if not in sight, earlier this year when the Shelbyville City Council discussed getting demolition bids for the city’s iconic 110-year-old Chautauqua building in Forest Park. But, a revitalized group of supporters is not only urging the council to save the deteriorating building, but wants to make it the centerpiece of tourism in the Lake Shelbyville area.
“There are many, many things the Chautauqua building can be used for,” said supporter Mark Shanks. “Depending on how far the renovation goes, we have a list of almost 60 events that could be held there.”
The Chautauqua is a 10-sided auditorium with no center supports that was originally constructed as the centerpiece of Chautauqua educational and entertainment events held in Shelbyville during the early part of the 20th century. During World War II, the building stored munitions and during the 1950s, 1960 and 1970s hosted a variety of concerts by popular artists. An ice storm during the late 1970s damaged the building’s roof and one of the vital ceiling beams. That beam was never repaired and the Chautauqua, although used for community events, continued to deteriorate until earlier this year when Public Buildings and Grounds Commissioner Gib Smart said it was uninsurable and closed the building to the public.
A volunteer group has raised more than $100,000 to renovate the building. After the council discussed tearing it down earlier this year, more supporters joined a Facebook group and signed petitions urging the city to preserve it. The council voted to spend part of the funds raised on an engineering/renovation plan that will be presented early next year, but told organizers they must have an ongoing business plan that supports the further care of the building.
Last week, Shanks and Keith Endsley, representing the “Save our Chautauqua” group, told the council the building could be used by repairing the roof and beam, but, with added Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant renovations as well as heating and air conditioning, could become a centerpiece for events and tourism at Lake Shelbyville.
“We have letters of support from different groups saying they would use a restored Chautauqua Auditorium,” Endsley said. “Another idea we’ve discussed with Shelby County Tourism Director Freddie Fry would be adding a museum. The walls lend themselves to murals and displays.”
Other activities suggested include plays, concerts, public meetings, weddings, boat and auto shows and private company meetings and events.
So far, the Shelbyville City Council has remained noncommittal on pledging financial support for the Chautauqua.
“I think we want to wait and see what the engineer says,” council member Brent Fogleman said.
In the meantime, more than 200 yard signs have been placed, urging residents to “Save our Chautauqua” and former committee chair Wayne Gray said he was optimistic.
“We have a revitalized and re-energized group of supporters,” he said. “In this business plan we’ve shown how a restored Chautauqua could be operated for as little as $10,000 a year and we’ve shown how to provide that.
Mayor Jeff Johnson, a Chautauqua supporter, said the plan was a good one.
“You’ve been thinking outside the box and it’s a good template for future planning and making some factual and realistic projections,” he said.
Save our Chautauqua signs are available at the Shelbyville Chamber of Commerce office and Monical’s Pizza in Shelbyville. Shanks said his group is now waiting for the engineering report.
“We’re looking forward to getting that report,” Shanks said. “Then we’ll know how to best move forward.”