Defying what would appear to be all odds, a development team is working to reopen the State Theater, 2616 W. State St., most famous for its incarnations as The Palms, Electric Ballroom and later Hoops.
The theater, which was built as a movie house in 1915, hosted many concerts in its 1970s-80s nightclub era, including early performances by the likes of U2, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Huey Lewis & the News, Elvis Costello, Metallica and The Police.
The building has been vacant since 1991 and last February was devastated by fire.
On Friday, Clara Tracey – owner of the Four Corners of the World shop on Vliet Street – said that she is part of a team that is working to renovate the State Theater.
The group is working with the City of Milwaukee to acquire the property.
"(The) neighborhood group has been given a few more months to find financing and tenants," said David Misky of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee in an email. "They have a concept but need to pull the pieces together soon."
The development team also includes recording studio owner Charles Forsberg; local real estate developer John Hennessy; Andrew Parker, owner of the nearby Manderley Bed & Breakfast; Allyson Nemec of Quorum Architects; Unifi Records owner Dimitriy Pochtarev; and Barbara Tracey, Director of Liturgy at St. Michael’s Parish.
As for financing for the project, Nemec said the group is "putting the puzzle together. That is the challenge."
According to Clara Tracey, The New State Theater will have an all-ages, for-profit performance venue focusing on rap and electronic music, recording studios, retail space for local merchandise and will serve as a home for FREESPACE, an existing non-profit founded by rappers Webster X and Kane the Rapper, and MPS teacher Vincent Gaa.
"FREESPACE will expand from once-monthly events to a non-profit focused on youth and modern music, artist development, networking and community," Tracey said. "My partner, Charles Forsberg, is the first official tenant and will become one of the owners of the building. He owns and operates a recording studio currently in the Lincoln Warehouse."
Tracey said construction is expected to begin in spring, "if all goes according to plan."
Tracey also supplied a project description document, which says that a renovated and reopened State Theater could serve as an incubator for young Milwaukee musical talent:
"The New State Theater will be a home for Milwaukee’s music community, uniting musicians and audiences in a beautifully renovated historic theater. The theater will guide young artists from teens to young adults to adults, cultivating cross-generational skill and knowledge sharing. Most importantly, the theater will respect the contributions that young people make to popular culture by opening the doors to them, freely giving young people an inclusive space to explore the human condition through art."
Stay tuned for more information on this exciting potential rebirth of a Milwaukee music and cinema landmark.
"It will be a great reuse, and preserve a community icon," said Nemec. "And (the team members) are great people."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.