Imagination District

MANSFIELD – You'll have to use your imagination to picture the potential at the new spaces for the Renaissance Theatre and Little Buckeye Children's Museum.

While the future home of the facilities is a bit bare, Fred Boll and Mike Miller have big plans. During a media-only sneak peek of the space before the Richland Area Chamber Business After Hours, Boll and Miller discussed what the Imagination District will mean to the community.

"Mike and I have been working very hard on telling the story of the Imagination District," said Boll, director of Little Buckeye. "It’s one thing for us to do a Powerpoint, it’s another to actually walk through the building and get a sense of what may be happening."

The story of the Imagination District began more than three years ago, when Boll and Miller completed the Osborne Meese Academy at the Richland County Foundation. The training program is aimed at increasing the capacity of nonprofit organizations.

"The whole premise was to get nonprofits to not only build their own businesses, but see what they could do with other ones and how we could share resources," said Miller, CEO of the Renaissance.

Shortly after the program's completion, the Renaissance had the opportunity to purchase the property at 166 Park Avenue West. Then, Little Buckeye expressed interest in purchasing the adjoining buildings. A partnership between the two entities was a natural development.

"Collaboration is not an easy thing, and for two nonprofits to decide to do a capital campaign together, to share all the information we have on potential donors and sources of revenue, nonprofits oftentimes stay in their own silos," Boll said. "This is a unique model. It took a lot of work to make it happen, but Mike and I never gave up on the idea, and we kept plugging away."

Development of the Imagination District is already well underway. The Renaissance has nearly completed the renovation of its black box theater space, Theatre 166, and will open its upstairs space for the Pioneer Performing Arts program this fall.

Little Buckeye's space will take a little longer; Boll estimated the new 35,000 square-foot space will be complete in 2021. The new museum will include two large exhibit spaces on the main floor, traveling exhibit space on the second floor, and party room and classrooms downstairs.

Boll also has plans for the two pieces of property behind the building that extends to Third Street.

"One of the needs for downtown Mansfield and part of proper child development is kids need to play outside," he said. "We are creating an outdoor playscape that will be free to the public during Little Buckeye operational hours. That will be a great space outside for development."

A second outdoor space will be created in-between the Renaissance Theatre and the new Theatre 166 space.

"The Rainbow Mortgage building will come down in the next month or so, and the whole area will connect with a green space plaza, including canopies and a crossover," Miller said. "There we can show movies and have bands and food truck parking."

Fundraising for the Imagination District is well underway, with a number of generous donors including Carl and Annamarie Fernyak, the Richland County Foundation, and Gorman Rupp and the Jim Gorman family. The goal is to raise $6 million for the District, with contributions going into a joint fund created at the Richland County Foundation.

Boll believes that much money and more will be poured back into the community with the completion of the Imagination District.

"Once we’re a year or two into this facility, projections are we’ll create over $7.7 million annually between the two entities," Boll said.

"If you want someone to live here, you have to get them to visit first, and this is going to get people to visit. The majority of our visitors now come from outside the county. I think it will spurn economic development on this whole street."

Most importantly though, both the Renaissance and Little Buckeye will share value between each other and the community.

"We have 12 unique education programs, serve over 16,000 students a year. Having a children’s museum next door to us, we can double that in the next four to five years," Miller said. "We have the ability to engage the families that will be right next door to us."

"Imagination is what the basis of the museum is, and what do you use when you go watch a play?" added Boll. "Appropriate child development requires the use of imagination, and to be able to partner with Mike and the Renaissance with all the imaginative things they do, I think it’s a real natural collaboration."

Journalism nerd. Adopted Shelby resident; Dayton native. Proud OSU alum. Coffee enthusiast.

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