Public Presentation about
Big Top Chautauqua Planning
Saturday, October 21 • 10:00 am
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Many people are wondering what Big Top is planning for our future. While the Board of Directors is at the beginning of their planning process, some information is known at this time and more will be forthcoming over the course of the next year.
Information about Big Top's future plans:
Big Top begins future planning
Bayfield County Journal, Feb 23, 2017
Link to original article HERE
After celebrating their 30th anniversary last summer, the Big Top Chautauqua Board of Directors has begun the planning process to ensure the iconic arts organization’s success in the next 30 years.
What makes this planning process different from their ongoing strategic planning they undertake is the inability to obtain the custom canvas tents that inspired the name “Big Top.” Board President Kim Ogle suggested this provides the organization with challenges but also opportunities to forecast what kind of facilities will be needed for the future.
“We are exploring possibilities for a more permanent structure that can re-create the best qualities of our canvas tents, and improve upon some of the issues that we have had with them,” she said. “We want to make sure that we have a tent-like look and feel to any structure we might create, and maintain the excellent sound quality that’s a hallmark of Big Top performances. At the same time, we’d like to improve accessibility and amenities for our patrons and solve some of the weather-related issues that we currently have.”
Board Member Cheryl Fosdick sits on the Facilities Committee leading the effort.
“We are committed to building a structure that preserves the rural, nostalgic ‘feels like home’ qualities of our current venue,” Fosdick said. “When more is known, we will seek input from our community as to how we can make this a world class, transformative facility, nestled in the natural beauty of the area, recalling ‘a simpler time’ as the current venue does.”
Big Top Executive Director Terry Matier indicated that exploration has begun to look at all options open to the organization to make this future project possible for Big Top and consistent with the environmental focus of the Bayfield Peninsula.
“The current tent was purchased in 2014,” said Matier. “If all goes well, and we have no major weather incidents, we can expect to run with this tent through the 2019 season.”
More than that is not known at this time. Matier and Ogle said there will be many opportunities for the community to have input into the project once the Board has finalized its information gathering and study phase.
Big Top’s 2017 Summer Season is set to open on June 16 with the traditional New First Night featuring the Blue Canvas Orchestra on the Chautauqua grounds at Mt. Ashwabay in Bayfield. The season planning is underway with five shows already announced and on sale including Celtic acts Gaelic Storm and Mary Black, Texas Bluesman Delbert McClinton, Here Come the Mummies – a funky big band where the musicians are all wrapped in mummy garb, and Louisiana’s Tab Benoit.
Many more shows will be announced in the coming weeks and months.
Big Top is a non-profit arts organization founded in 1986 whose mission it is to provide entertaining and educational cultural activities for the residents of and visitors to the Chequamegon Bay area. Visit www.bigtop.org
Big Top Chautauqua selects new home
Volunteers help raise the canvas tent at Big Top Chautauqua on the grounds of the Mount Ashwabay Ski and Recreation Area. For decades, Big Top has shared the location with Ashwabay. After the end of the 2019 season, Big Top plans to move into a new location next to the Ashwabay operation. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Ashland Daily Press, Rick Olivo, May 11, 2017
Link to original article HERE
After a long period of consideration, Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua has finally picked a new home for the “Carnegie Hall of tent shows” and it’s literally next door to their current site at the Mount Ashwabay Ski and Recreation Area south of Bayfield.
According to Big Top Executive Director Terry Matier, the organization has acquired a 70-acre parcel of property adjoining their current location on Ski Hill Road.
“The decision to acquire a new location for Big Top’s tent coincides with the end of the useful life of their current canvas tent and Big Top’s decision to begin planning for the construction of a new, permanent tent structure,” Matier said in a news release issued Thursday afternoon.
She said Big Top would remain at its current Mt. Ashwabay location for the next three years as plans and fundraising develop.
The property was sold to Big Top on what Matier called “very favorable terms” with a closing set for later this spring. She said the sellers did not wish to be identified at this time.
“Big Top Chautauqua’s acquisition of its new site is an example of what can happen when the stars align,” Matier said. “Mary, the land seller, and her husband Bob, an avid woodworker, purchased the land in the early 2000s. Bob wanted a site on which to build a woodshop for creating furniture for his home and building toys for his grandkids.”
“My dad absolutely loved spending time at his shop and on his land whether it was hunting, four-wheeling, woodworking, or just enjoying the beautiful views,” said Mary’s son Mike. “He also loved music and was a card-carrying ‘50s rock superfan.”
So naturally, Bob and Mary attended lots of concerts together under the big tent and also helped BTC with fundraising efforts, Matier said.
Bob passed away in 2007. However, Mary and her family have maintained the family cabin in Bayfield and visit often. “We were up for a long weekend this past winter enjoying the very last day of the ski season at Mt. Ashwabay when we heard that Big Top was looking for a new site,” Mary explained.
A family friend suggested that maybe Bob’s land might be the perfect future location for BTC.
“Well, the idea just clicked with us immediately,” she said. “What a great way to contribute to our community and honor Bob’s love of his land at the same time.”
Mary then struck a deal with Big Top for its acquisition of the property.
“Big Top is part of the fabric of the Bayfield community and we are thrilled to support it,” said Mary. “We know Bob would be thrilled too.”
Matier said the new property was ideal for Big Top’s needs, with a generous area of cleared, level land and room for further development in the future.
Matier said the purchase sets the stage for future decision-making.
“Once we knew where we were going to be, we could begin to undertake this process that will give us a better indication of where things should be located, what are the methods of solving the issues that we need solved, and how do the different properties work together,” she said.
“We are thoughtfully exploring possibilities for a structure that can recreate the best qualities of our canvas tents, while remedying some of the issues that we have had with them,” said Big Top Big Top Board President Kim Ogle. “We want to make sure that we have a tent-like look and feel to any structure we might create, and maintain the excellent sound quality that’s a hallmark of Big Top performances. At the same time, it’s crucial that we improve accessibility for our patrons and solve some of the weather-related challenges that we currently have.”
Matier said one of the challenges faced by Big Top is just finding a tent to replace the one they are currently using, and which is nearing the end of its service life.
“They really are not making these tents any more,” she said. “Big canvas tents like ours are a custom order, and we have kept this company going on these, but we are their only customer and they don’t have the talent any more and they are not maintaining their big sewing machines any more.”
These days, large tents are made almost exclusively out of vinyl. Using vinyl for the new big top tent isn’t acceptable, both because of longevity and aesthetic reasons; the superior acoustics of music under canvas has been one of the big drawing points of the Big Top shows.
“That is going to be our challenge once we get to the stage of designing something, to make sure that it has the acoustical properties that we have now,” Matier said.
Just where that tent will come from is an issue that has yet to be resolved, she said. “It will be a while before we actually find the right designer for the project, but what I personally want to see is a designer that has some artistic vision, so that we can keep the best of what the tent is visually and aurally,” she said.
Matier admitted that the move would have a financial impact for the Ashwabay Outdoor Education Foundation, which operates Mount Ashwabay.
Once Big Top leaves, the Foundation will lose the over $10,000 annual fee paid by Big Top to Mt. Ashwabay as a maintenance fee. Mt. Ashwabay will also lose the proceeds from the concession pavilion they operated during Big Top performances.
Matier said despite the projected changes, Big Top and Ashwabay remained on good terms.
“I don’t think that this result is necessarily what everybody hoped it would be, but I think we are on the same page of what we do now to partner together in the future in different ways,” she said. “I think we all want to go forward successfully together, that is what I am trying to convey.”
Nevertheless, there are also benefits for both operations, Matier said.
“Over the years both the Ashwabay Outdoor Education Foundation and Big Top Chautauqua have sought to revise the partnership for various reasons – most critical for Big Top was to be able to own the land underneath their planned permanent tent structure,” she said. “Ashwabay wants to expand the use of the property during the summer tourist season which has been largely prevented due to the security needs and sound issues for Big Top artists loading in and rehearsing during the day.”
Because the property that is now being obtained by Big Top is located directly adjacent to the Ashwabay property, the result is the expansion of the entire footprint of the two partner organizations, freeing up the site for Ashwabay to grow in their outdoor education mission during the summer months.
Matier said after the main concert structure is established down the hill, Big Top and Ashwabay would explore new ways to partner together for increasing tourism and exposure for the area to the benefit of the entire region.
“It is our hope that we can move forward together and ensure that both organizations continue to thrive and enrich our community,” she said.
Matier emphasized that the changes were still some time away.
“If all goes well, our current tent will last until the end of 2019,” she said. “Nothing is going to change very quickly; we have a big planning process and a big fundraising process ahead of us.”
While those substantial changes remain in the future, there is also planning underway for a new season, one that will feature such artists as Ziggy Marley, Travis Tritt, Bruce Hornsby and Bonnie Raitt among many others as well as locally produced favorite shows and Big Top founder Warren Nelson, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a performer.
That season begins this Saturday at 7 a.m., with the 32nd traditional Big Top tent raising event, a community event where all volunteers are welcomed.
Big Top sets listening session ON WEDNESDAY TO EXPLORE FUTURE PLANS
An artist’s rendering gives an idea of the open-form structure that Big Top Chautauqua is planning to build an a recently acquired parcel of land immediately adjacent to their present home at the Mount Ashwabay Ski and Recreation area south of Bayfield. Big Top officials plan a community listening session at the current Big Top tent at 7 p.m. Wednesday to take input from Big Top fans and community members.
Ashland Daily Press, Rick Olivo, July 11, 2017
Link to original article HERE
Big Top Chautauqua has announced that it will hold a public listening session on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Big Top Tent to discuss the organization’s plans to build a permanent structure to replace its existing tent.
Officials for the non-profit performing arts center also plan to move the base of operations from the Mount Ashwabay Ski and Recreation Area to a 70-acre property Big Top has acquired adjacent to the Mount Ashwabay property.
“Chautauqua must plan a new type of structure because the company that has made canvas tents for them for the last 30 years stopped working in canvas,” said a news release issued Monday. “Additionally, costs for tent replacement have escalated to become unsustainable for the organization. In 2007 the cost for both a new main tent and concessions tent together was $85,000. In 2013 the cost grew to $140,000 to replace only the main tent. This situation, combined with safety and weather concerns, has compelled Big Top Chautauqua to plan an alternate structure that can sustain the organization for the long term.”
The release indicated that it was hoped the present canvas tent would last through the 2019 season before it would require replacement.
“The main goal with the new structure is to retain the look and feel of the traditional open outdoor Chautauqua tent,” the release continued.
The acquisition of the property immediately adjacent to the Mount Ashwabay operation would be advantageous to both parties, the release said.
“Since its inception Big Top Chautauqua has existed in a unique arrangement with Mt. Ashwabay Ski and Recreation Area which has allowed them to erect the enormous tent every year at the base of Mt. Ashwabay. Big Top Chautauqua’s plan to evolve into a permanent structure created a need to secure land that is owned by Big Top Chautauqua and not rented or borrowed. Big Top has obtained a property directly adjacent to the Mt Ashwabay property, thus expanding the entire footprint of the two partner organizations.”
Also to be discussed at the listening session is Big Top’s recent acquisition of the Northern Edge Supper Club
“We are considering that site for a box office and gift shop site, as well as an event center for fundraisers, dinners, after show food & beverage, small events year round as well as space for educational activities,” said a planning page at Big Top’s website, located at http://www.bigtop.org/news.html.
According to Big Top Executive Director Terry Matier, the purpose of the listening session was to allow Big Top fans and area residents to speak directly with members of the Big Top Board of Directors.
“We have had a few town hall meetings and things where people were feeling left out of the loop, and so we just wanted to have a session where we could all sit down and ask questions that the board could hear and see what people were thinking or were concerned about,” Matier said.
She said another purpose of the gathering was to clear up any misinformation.
Matier said the organization was “on the brink” of commissioning a master planning process.
“In fact, all the proposals are due today,” she said Monday afternoon. “We have several great ones and I am very excited about that.”
Matier said the planning process would take place over the summer.
“By the end of October we will know a little bit more, such as what kind of budget we are talking about, how we will use the different properties for the programs that we want to do,” she said.
She said decisions would be made concerning what uses the new building, located just south of Bayfield would be put to, as well as what would become of the current Big Top office in Washburn.
“That will be part of the planning process. Does it have a use anymore or will everything be located to Bayfield?” she said. “But I don’t want Washburn to feel that we are abandoning them. We’ve been a good community member in Washburn, but the Northern Edge location has just the right visibility on the highway on the right-hand side of the road, so it could be in the future that we will move everything to that location.”
Matier said it would be a three-year process to make those kinds of decisions.
“First there will be studying, second is fund-raising, third, building,” she said. Meanwhile, Matier said Wednesday’s meeting was all about community relations. “I just want people like they have a voice in the process,” she said. “I think there is some misinformation out there, and I feel like maybe people think we are further along than we are, and they haven’t been included yet, so we want to be sure that their voices are heard. We are going to be there more to listen than we are to talk. We are there to answer questions and listen for the most part, because until we have this plan done, we don’t know a lot yet.”
Terry Matier, Executive Director of Big Top Chautauqua, recently spoke with KUWS News Director Danielle Kaeding on the regional WPR program "Hear Me Out."
"Hear me Out" is a news and public affairs program focused on events and issues in Northwestern Wisconsin. The program airs on Fridays at 10am on WPR stations 91.3-FM KUWS in Superior and 90.9-FM WUWS in Ashland. It is repeated Friday evenings at 7pm on WPR stations 89.9-FM WHSA in Brule, 88.5-FM WSSU in Superior and 104.7-FM WHWA in the Washburn, Ashland and Bayfield areas.
Want to know more?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Is BTC planning on building a concrete enclosed building?
The design for the venue will not be done until after the plan is complete, but the initial concept is to erect a “tent-like” structure that is open air. The structure will stay up year-round, but operations will still be seasonal. The auxiliary site at the old Northern Edge could feature some off-season musical events.
Why does Big Top wish to leave their current Mt. Ashwabay location?
Big Top doesn’t own any land at Mt. Ashwabay, but holds a lease with AOEF. It was the opinion of the Board of Directors that they need to own the land under the new structure for several reasons including the ability to borrow short-term funds if necessary. BTC and AOEF worked for several years on a possible solution. We were not able to come to terms with purchasing property from Mt. Ashwabay. BTC wants to work with AOEF in the future to benefit both organizations. We understand AOEF’s importance to our community and hope to assist in their continued success.
What about the property on County Road J in Bayfield?
That property has been offered to Big Top as a donation. There are no plans for BTC performances to take place there.
When will we hear more about the planning and building process?
Our master planning process is set to take place between July and October of 2017. There will be a community input forum scheduled during that time with the planners. At the end of that planning process, Big Top will report the outcome of the study. In 2018, the public will learn more about the full plan, and the financial needs of making the plan a reality.
Main Box Office:
101 W Bayfield St
PO Box 455
Washburn, WI 54891
32525 Ski Hill Rd
3 miles South of Bayfield at Mt Ashwabay Ski & Recreation Area