Stan Krahenbuhl, before becoming President of the Board of Directors of the Driver Opera House Restoration, Inc., was a building inspector. As an inspector he focused on providing a strong foundation for buildings and resolving those issues that arise with restorations. Anyone who has worked on an older building has had their own “gotcha” moment. It’s why so much of the conversation about the Driver Opera House has been what Daniels Construction had to overcome in enhancing the foundations and flood proofing the building. However, we can’t lose focus on what Stan’s direction and Daniels’ work will be providing: a structurally sound, historically accurate, beautifully restored professional building that will enhance our historic downtown Main St. and serve a myriad of needs of our county. This building will be much better than a parking lot.
Why not a parking lot? Why not just blacktop the downtown? That was a very real possibility except for the vision and dedication of a group of individuals who wanted to honor and preserve the history of the Driver Opera House, provide a viable venue for social, cultural, and artistic events, and enhance tourism in Lafayette County. These are three worthwhile reasons that will have a positive economic impact on Southwest Wisconsin.
The Driver Opera House is more than a bunch of bricks and a solid foundation. Theatres have proven to be catalysts for bringing in diners, shoppers and travelers. Theatres provide a focal point that helps bring attention. Lafayette County ranks near the bottom in the state in attracting tourist dollars. Restoring the Driver Opera House is an opportunity to change that history.
What does Darlington really gain? A facility that brings regional attention? A modern facility that will be functional for generations? A catalyst for guests to come into town? Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yes! The Driver Opera House Board is very specific: its goal is to enhance businesses in Southwest Wisconsin, not compete with them.
Let’s be clear: restoring the Driver Opera House is an investment in Darlington and Lafayette County. In addition, the restored Driver could potentially lift area property values for other businesses due to the enhancements and be a boom in business because of the tourism the Driver will stimulate. To date, the work is being completed without requiring city financial input. Thanks to the help of the approximate $540,000 DNR matching grant and continued private donations, an additional $400,000+ has been raised. More is needed, however. The most significant costs of the facility, rebuilding the foundations, are being covered. The result is that for a cost far less than buying the land and building a new facility, Darlington acquires a new 300 seat auditorium built for today: elevator, new heating, plumbing and air conditioning, all new electrical, fully handicapped accessible, and an exterior that enhances, not detracts from Main Street. This is all within walking distance of downtown businesses. This work will be thanks to Joe Daniels Construction and their Superintendent, Doug Kennedy (grandson of Darlington’s Fred & Fran Fink.)
However, more dollars are needed to complete and pay for the lower level of the Driver. The goal is to have the lower half of the building ready for rental by late winter or early spring; however, it will take the continued dedication of many people to finalize this necessary portion of the project.
Once the lower half is completed, the actual Driver Opera House will be restored in the upper level of the building. Darlington and Lafayette County will have a strong, modern, beautiful historic building, in its best shape—ever. As the project progresses, the people dedicated to seeing this valuable endeavor through to its completion continue to need and seek others to help. Upon completion of the lower level, Naming rights for the upper level of the historic Driver Opera House will be available; you could sponsor a window and change the view of Darlington! Your Family’s Name could be etched in Darlington & Lafayette County History!
When revealed, in its restored state, the entire building where The Driver Opera House resides will be an investment and a facility the city and county can be proud of… it will be another Pearl of the Pecatonica.