Janesville71.1°

Armory plans change in direction

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
December 16, 2011
— Mick Gilbertson says it might be a seven-year itch, but it's got nothing to do with his wife or family.

Instead, Gilbertson is charting a different course for The Armory in downtown Janesville, one that will focus more on fine dining and special events and less on theatrical productions.


"We're heading into our seventh year, and it's just time for a change," Gilbertson said.


The most noticeable change will be the end of big-time productions in The Drill Hall Theater, an Armory hallmark that's drawn well, for the most part, year after year.


Gilbertson said The Armory had its best year in 2007. With a struggling economy, however, he noticed that by 2010 a significant portion of his season ticket holders were no longer in the area.


"Twenty-four percent of our ticket holders are literally gone," he said.


The productions The Armory has come to be known for carry extensive front-end costs. In recent years, the costs have been harder to recoup.


"We always went for high production values for the shows, the cast, the set, the music and the lights," Gilbertson said. "But our business is about disposable income, and in a struggling economy, disposable income is the first to go.


"Our guests are changing how they spend their money."


The Armory is staging "A Christmas Carol." When the musical closes Dec. 23, Gilbertson and his staff will turn their attention to The Armory's two restaurants, the more casual Bunker Lounge and Lieutenants, a more sophisticated setting for private parties, business dinners and monthly wine dinners.


With the end of theatrical productions, The Drill Hall Theater will offer a new flexibility for special events and a concert series of six to eight performances similar to this year's Neil Diamond tribute show and the Van Dells, a '50s and '60s revival show.


Gilbertson said guest surveys have indicated a desire for high-quality dining and more special events, including a concert series, cooking schools and private parties.


"We will become much more flexible in what we can offer our guests," he said, noting that stage sets in The Drill Hall often limited what could be offered for outside special events.


Weddings and private parties will become an even bigger part of The Drill Hall.


The Armory hosted six weddings in 2010 and 22 this year. Twenty-three are on the books for 2012, and Gilbertson said four or five already are booked for 2013.


"Those special events don't come with a lot of the front-end costs like the theatrical shows," he said.


Gilbertson said The Armory would continue to hold annual events such as a fall wine festival, Mother's Day and Easter brunches and its annual New Year's Eve celebration.


"I've heard from some tour groups who wonder if we've closed," he said. "We haven't closed and aren't closing.


"It's time for a change, and we'll continue on, just in a different direction."



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