Visalia Players Club take the stage, purchases Ice House Theater

Visalia Players Club purchases the Ice House Theater from the city of Visalia, plans to improve building and its accessibility

VISALIA – After having operated in the same theater since the early ‘70s, the Visalia Players Club was finally able to raise enough money to purchase the Ice House Theater.

On Dec. 30, the Visalia Players Club announced that they officially purchased the Ice House Theater from the city of Visalia. The purchase was a long time coming, with the Visalia Players first expressing interest in the property in 2019. Karl Schoettler, the president of Visalia Players, said that this purchase will give them the freedom to make their own decisions about how the building can be improved and used.

“We began this journey in 2019 with a decision to purchase the theater from the city of Visalia. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic we closed for a little over a year,” VPC wrote in a Facebook post. “In April of 2021, we re-opened, and that’s when you sprang into action with donating.”  

The Visalia Players have operated in the Ice House Theater since the early 70’s, but the city has always owned the property, according to Schoettler. The Visalia Players rented the property for $1 per year, though they’ve invested thousands of dollars into building repairs, according to Schoettler. 

The Ice House Theater has shared a common property with the Creative Center, a program for developmentally challenged adults, for years. The property of East Race and North Bridge, commonly known as the Creative Center Complex, was appraised for $1.4 million in September 2022. However, according to city documents, the property was split into two parcels, allowing the Creative Center and the Visalia Players to purchase their own, separate properties. The Visalia Players bought their share of the property for a total of $350,000, while the Creative Center bought theirs for a little over $1 million. 

The Visalia Players were finally given the opportunity to purchase the property when the city decided to sell the complex during the dawn of the pandemic. However, the Visalia Players, like many other performing groups, were deeply affected by the pandemic. 

“We didn’t have any way to make money, because our main way of making money is to put on shows and sell tickets,” Schoettler said. “We did some online shows, and we kept reaching out to our supporters asking for donations until we were able to reopen.”

Schoettler said that the only way they were able to purchase the building is through the donations of the community. When they first announced they were interested in buying the property, they received help from multiple private donors. They also received larger donations from the Visalia County Center Rotary Club and the Visalia Rotary Community Foundation.

The only downside to having complete ownership of the property is increased liability, as well as the responsibility of repairs, according to Schoettler. Before, when the city was the property owner, they would pay for any damage to the building, such as a roof caving in, or any type of disaster. However, Schoettler said that it shouldn’t be too much of a concern, given they’ve rarely, if ever, had any major damage happen to the building.

“We’ve never had anything catastrophic like that, and we’ve paid for most of the upgrades over the years that have happened,” Schoettler said. “The city has paid for some things as well, so I want to thank them for being a great partner.”

Additionally, the staff report from 2021 stated that the property was “enhanced” using federal community development block grant (CDBG) funds. If the city managed to sell the property they would need to “reimburse” a balance of $175,000, but the remainder would be used at the discretion of the council. Fast forward to 2023, and Allison Mackey, the communications manager of Visalia, said this money would have to be paid back.

Schoettler said that their next task is to make upgrades to the theater that is well over 100 years old. There are handicap accessibility upgrades that have to take place as well, and Schoettler said they will be raising money for that. Additionally, Schoettler said that the theater will also be focusing on rebuilding their community, their actor pool and their members, since many dispersed as a result of the pandemic shutdown. 

“We’re having plays again, but we’re still not back to a full season. We’re still kind of climbing out of the pandemic slowdown. Some of our directors have moved on and we’re just trying to rebuild at this point,” Schoettler said.

Their next show will be a play called Sylvia, and will be directed by Ariana Murillo. The first showing will be on Jan. 27 and will run through Feb. 12. Tickets for adults are $16, while students are $12. Tickets can be purchased at https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=141448

The play is about a dog who is a major “bone of connection” between a married couple, Greg and Kate. Sylvia, the dog, gives Greg a way of escape from reality, whether it be struggles at work or the fear of getting older. Meanwhile, Kate finds herself in a constant rivalry for affection with Sylvia. The show is rated R due to language and adult content. 

The Visalia Players are a non-profit corporation dedicated to ushering community through theater in Visalia, and is supported by ticket sales and donations. They put on multiple shows every year, with members putting in hours of volunteer time into productions, ranging from acting, ticket sales, building sets and even maintaining the building. The Visalia Players are currently accepting members, donations and volunteers.

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