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Taproot Theatre applies for Master Use Permit to replace neighboring building destroyed by arson

Taproot Theatre is edging closer to replacing the neighboring Eleanor Roosevelt building, which was destroyed by an arsonist two years ago.
Taproot, at 204 N. 85th St., has applied for a Master Use Permit for the new building at 208 N. 85th St. Taproot had rented the building next door to four restaurants: Pho Tic Tac, Szechuan Bistro, Green Bean Coffeehouse and CC Teriyaki. Arsonist Kevin Todd Swalwell was sentenced to 30 years for setting the early-morning fire on Oct. 23, 2009, that burned down the building, as well as several other fires.
The new two-story, 12,200 square foot project needs an environmental review, design review, and liquor license approval. The public can comment on the plans through Oct. 12.
The building will be LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and will include a large lobby with a café that will be open seven days a week and into the evenings, a scene shop, a second theater with 120 seats, and staff offices upstairs.
The new building will be about 88 feet long, with a wall of storefront windows on the ground level, and “punch-out” windows (with no glass) on the second floor with a small garden.

Revised drawing of Taproot Theatre’s new building. By The Miller Hull Partnership.
“There’s a lot of light; a lot of steel and a lot of light,” Producing Artistic Director Scott Nolte says. “We’re calling it neo-Greenwood.”
That second theater is what they’re calling a “black box theater,” with collapsible seating that goes into the wall, opening up the space for rehearsals and events. The seats will be arranged in six rows of 20 seats. The grade of seating between rows is much greater than in Taproot’s Mainstage theater. Seats will be padded with armrests, and motorized to collapse.
Taproot doesn’t even have a true scene shop right now; they use the backstage area to build new sets for the mainstage and the touring company.
“They can’t really start working on things until our current show closes,” Nolte explains. “That means the turnaround time between shows is really, really frenetic.”
Nolte says having a dedicated scene shop will give them more time to build, and allow flexibility in scheduling.
“It means the turnaround time between the plays doesn’t have to be three weeks, it might be 10 days,” he says. “So if there’s a play that’s going especially well, let’s add another week to it.”
And the lobby café will serve theater patrons and passersby alike, during the day and evening.
“It especially serves us when there’s a play happening, but also during the rest of the week,” Nolte says of the cafe. “There are way too many storefronts for lease in downtown Greenwood. And after 6 o’clock at night there’s not a single building that’s lit up on that corner.”
Nolte says the theater is waiting for a final bid from its builder. Taproot is still conducting its $3.3 million fundraising campaign to pay for the new building, retire the mortgage on the current theater, and put some money into an emergency reserve fund. The current building’s mortgage has about $170,000 remaining.
“The whole thrust of the campaign is to really make sure we’re on solid financial footing,” Nolte says.