Bedlam’s moving—but where?

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Happy Hour at Bedlam Theatre was a busy time on Wednesday. Two community meetings—for Forecast Public Arts and the Anarchist Book Fair—were going on in the upper lobby and the fireside room, and a third meeting, about the future of Bedlam, took place in the main theater area whilst company members John Mac Cole, Telsche Theissen, and others moved props, costumes and other items. Meanwhile, the bar staff were hard at work serving up customers for the crowd hoping to have their last blissful moments on the patio; several children were in attendance. 


“We’re all moving to your place. So I hope your basement is cleared out,” staff member Ben Marcy joked. “We’re all set to move the lighting equipment.”


Although he was joking, the sentiment rang true. The fact is, Bedlam still doesn’t know where they are going after they move out on September 5, and their top choice, to move into Seward Commons, looks like it’s going to fall through. 


Earlier today, Sheldon Mains posted on the Seward Neighbors Forum that Bedlam Theatre had decided to temporarily re-locate into the Bystrom Site, otherwise known as Seward Commons, a building co-owned by a nonprofit firm called Redesign and the City of Minneapolis. 


Mains wrote that Bedlam was planning a fall festival of indoor and outdoor activities. The easiest way for them to make the move possible would be to be designated as a Community Festival, Mains wrote, and would need approval from Seward Neighborhood Group


The news hit the Twittersphere Wednesday morning, and Marianne Combs, from MPR, re-posted the information Mains provided onto her State of the Arts blog. 


However, in Wednesday’s meeting, Bedlam’s Executive Director John Bueche said it didn’t look probable that a move to the Seward location was possible. “As of today it seems pretty slim that we would be able to pull that off,” Bueche said of the move. “But who knows? Things could change that would make that different.”


Though Redesign initially approached Bedlam about moving into the space, they now are dragging their feet, requiring that Bedlam put down all kinds of building costs while not granting more than a two-month lease.


“With money, you can do anything,” Bueche said. “Redesign is not any more flush than we are.” The good part about Bedlam’s current landlords, Fine Associates, was that Bedlam always had a very good deal on rent, Bueche explained. “Redesign doesn’t have that same sort of flexibility.” 


Bueche said he heard from Minneapolis’s Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) that the city preferred Bedlam move into a different building, the Coliseum building near the Rainbow Foods on Lake Street, which Bueche considers a compromised location due to limitations of the space.


The city wasn’t behind Bedlam’s move to the Seward location, Bueche said, because Bedlam might be too successful. A similar thing might happen there as has happened at their current location—they move into the location as a temporary space but make such great connections that it becomes difficult to leave.


Since the move to Seward Commons most likely won’t happen, Bedlam is back at square one, with no backup plan other than putting their stuff in storage. “We can get a 20 by 20 storage space on Hiawatha for $500 a month,” Bueche said, only half-jokingly. 


At the meeting, other options were discussed, including moving to St. Paul. St. Paul officials called Bedlam right away when it was announced they were moving, and Bueche said that they called again today. 


Other options include possibly moving into the old Suburban World, in Uptown, or other locations in South Minneapolis. 


So, basically, the short-term plan for Bedlam is very unclear. At the same time, long-term seems more focused.


“In the long term, it’s pretty reassuring that there is a pretty amazing array of artists, social sector people, city leaders, and funders interested in Bedlam’s future,” Bueche said.


“Right now we’re trying to make a plan about how to focus and achieve a permanent space, which realistically may take a year to three years to develop. We need time to plan, fundraise, and ideally gauge the community—both the Bedlam community that’s already established and also the community of where we are moving. We have to buckle down and work on that.”