"I worked for the Missouri Department of Transportation for 30 years," the late Phil Broyles of the City of Springfield Public Works Department recalled in 2013. Broyles' energy and know-how were essential to the process of turning the old Creamery building from a vision into a reality, says former City Manager Finnie. “I had been involved in rehabilitating a lot of buildings over that time," said Broyles. "I knew we could bring The Creamery up to current codes, but I admit: when I first looked at the building, it was a daunting prospect. There were squirrels in residence, transients occasionally slept there, and water was coming in through the roof and through the doors. But we have lots of good architects with lots of ideas in this town, and the people at Butler, Rosenbury & Partners, in particular Tim Rosenbury and Chris Swan, really sunk their teeth into the project.”
As state funds began to flow, the SRAC hired Butler, Rosenbury & Partners (BRP) to design the building’s renovation in 2003. Former SRAC Executive Director Kay Logsdon agrees with Broyles. “BRP was the right choice at the right time. Those people just gave and gave and gave—far beyond the fee they received for designing the renovations. Lead project architect Chris Swan was patient with the stake-holders’ lack of expertise, walked us through the project and helped us make good decisions for the long term, even if that meant more upfront money.”
“The first work wasn’t sexy or showy,” recalls Tim Rosenbury, one of the firm’s two principals, “rather, it was necessary.” The building was in need of a new roof, new tucking and pointing of its old brick exteriors and interiors, new electrical wiring, and new heating, air conditioning and ventilation, all before any interior renovations could be undertaken.
As the shell improved, says Rosenbury, the ways in which the building could be used came into focus. The next updates involved finishing the first interior spaces–such as the building entries, the ballet studios, the board room, the office spaces for various tenants and the SRAC–while the rest of the building remained unused. “Everything else was kind of the Outback,” Rosenbury says. “At the beginning, as we were developing this project and the master plan, it really became clear what the building was best used for and that was education, administration and support.”
A finished performing space, once discussed as a possibility, was ruled out, but space for art exhibits would be a strong feature of the new building. And despite the building's lack of a formal performing space, the main gallery of the Creamery has been used for a variety of live performances with resounding success.
The Creamery we know today is a collection of about six or seven different buildings, Rosenbury notes. In this conglomeration of spaces, built at different times to serve different needs, there were no less than 12 different floor levels, which were eventually reduced to about four. “That was one of the biggest challenges,” Rosenbury recalls “simply making the building a unified, accessible space.”
The building may have been in serious disrepair, but even so, Rob Baird notes, it offered amenities uniquely suited to arts groups, including the loading docks and interior ramps at the north end of the building, which are now used to help load costumes and scenery for the Little Theatre. These existing accommodations saved tens of thousands of dollars that otherwise might have been spent to create them.
Baird also appreciates that Butler/Rosenbury retained the simplicity and well-worn flavor of the building, preserving its historical patina and sense of utility rather than obscuring its past behind modern trappings. “You could kick over a can of varnish in those big, raw spaces, and there was no need to worry about it—accidents like that only added to the character of the building,” Baird declared.
In the same spirit, the architects called out the infrastructure of the building, painting ventilation ducts a bright red. And several painted business signs that had once been on the outside walls of the building but had gradually become interior signs as the building assumed its chockablock shape over the decades, were carefully cleaned and retained, signposts of the past as the building assumed its new future.
The grounds around the building were also converted to accommodate creative pursuits. Thanks to a generous donation from the Rotary Club of Springfield (Downtown), an intimate outdoor classroom, which could be used as a performance space, was added at the western end of the building. It has proved to be a highly popular venue for the arts workshops and summer programs organized by the Arts Council.
The first phase of renovations was completed in mid-2002, when the SRAC officially moved its offices into the building. As a large article in the Springfield News-Leader declared: “Most recently home to mice, lizards, spiders and the occasional drifter, a city-owned former creamery in Jordan Valley Park has new, more permanent tenants. Last month, the city leased space in the vacant historic building to the Springfield Regional Arts Council.”
Longtime local arts supporter William Brandon Bowman was another pioneering tenant, moving the Arts Patronage Initiative, a Baird Family philanthropy project, into one of the building’s offices.
With life and activity restored to the building, an increasing number of Springfieldians began to visit and use it. “All of a sudden, people started getting the idea: ‘Oh, wow, we can all collaborate around a shared space,’ ” BRP architect Chris Swan says. The energy was contagious, and beginning in 2006 and spilling into 2007, the second phase of The Creamery renovation took place. This included creating a costume storage and a scenery shop on the lower level for the Springfield Little Theatre.
The possibilities offered by the new building came into sharp focus when the Little Theatre responded to a challenge from Springfield entrepreneur Jack Stack, author of the influential book The Great Game of Business, who urged local non-profit groups to think more entrepreneurially. With new room to experiment, the theatrical group launched a program in which it offered to rent costumes, and then scenery, to other regional theater groups.
The impact was both immediate and profound. Long a center of expenses for the company, the backstage units underwent a 180-degree transformation, and today the group’s rental business offers the company a steady revenue stream for its coffers—a testament to the opportunities The Creamery presents to its tenants.