Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 29, 2013

Party Spaces: Newer venues offer more options for concerts, events


---- — TRAVERSE CITY— It may have been open for a few years, but downtown Traverse City’s ECCO event space is only now coming on the radar of visitors, thanks to events like the CherryT Ball Drop Dance Party and the Winter Comedy Arts Festival Soup’R Bowl.

It’s one of several area buildings being re-purposed as year-round, multi-functional community event spaces.

ECCO, whose name means “Here it is” or “Here we are” in Italian, opened in June 2011 and has been slowly catching on despite its nearly hidden location between the M-22 and Harbor Wear stores on Front Street.

“The sign just says ECCO, it does not say ECCO event space. So some people think it’s the ECCO shoe store or M-22,” said Madeline Begley of Events to Remember, which recently took over management of the 319-capacity space for owners Front Row Centre. “We’re working on a new sign that will be lighted in an elegant way, since most of our functions are at night. We want to make this place the buzz around town.”

The 5,500-square-foot space originated in 1948 as a basement bowling alley for the Michigan Theatre. In 1959 it was replaced with a roller skating rink known as “Moonlight Gardens.” After a sweeping renovation, it boasts 10-foot-high ceilings and a contemporary neutral pallet that makes it ideal for everything from kids art and outer space camps to elegant weddings. Renters can even supply their own vendors.

“You can kind of decorate however you want because it’s a blank canvas,” Begley said. “It’s wonderful for people who are looking for a venue year-round. No, we don’t have windows. But it’s always sunny in ECCO.”

Located in the former Traverse City Cigar Box Factory (circa 1920), THE BOX on Boardman and Eighth Streets was unveiled at a public open house in December. Shortly after it began hosting cooking classes and other events.

The building’s 3,750-square-foot interior event space features 14-foot-high post and beam ceilings, original wood floors, an elevated stage, oversized windows with a Boardman River view, a professional kitchen with huge black granite and white marble islands, and men’s and women’s shower rooms left over from its recent fitness center days. It doubles as the home and publishing offices of owners Matt and Victoria Sutherland.

“We sort of stumbled into the idea of building out THE BOX as an event space,” said Matt Sutherland. “The plan was to build out the middle level as a loft-style apartment. Architect Ray Kendra and designer Scott Lankford worked with us to keep the kitchen and living areas open yet industrial looking. Based on reactions from friends and visitors, we slowly realized the space was ideal for gatherings of all types, from weddings to parties with live music to cooking classes and intimate dinners.

“Next month, we’ll begin work on a formal garden where the parking lot used to be. By July this corner should be really transformed, offering us a bit of privacy as well as great space to hang out with family and friends.”

After years of hosting revue-style shows, the Williamsburg Dinner Theater is the new home of the New Horizons Concert Series.

“We christened the series with John Doyle and Karan Casey and there were nearly 100 folks there for a Monday night in March which, for this town, is pretty remarkable,” said concert promoter Seamus Shinners. “Once people realize you can be in a quality room, get quality service and see a quality show — and not get a parking ticket — that’s heaven on earth.”

Shinners said the venue and its series offer a new entertainment option on the east side of town, with the added benefits of a full stage and professional light and sound systems; a separate bar area; plentiful, free parking; and appetizers and beverages provided by Catering by Kelly’s.

“Dan and Jan Kelly, the owners, are doing it more as a labor of love,” he said. “Their whole business is catering and yet they want to give something back to the community. We’re hopeful that we can sustain a show or two a week.”

The Williamsburg also offers banquet and conference areas and an outdoor wedding venue called the Williamsburg Creekside!

New Horizons Concert Series April 10 - Dick Hensold; Northumbrian smallpiper April 13 - Jamie O'Reilly & Michael Smith in "Songs of a Catholic Childhood; folk April 20 - Sister Wilene; country, bluegrass April 27 - Dave Kaplan; magician, comic, juggler May 3 - Detour; bluegrass May 18 - Peter, Paul and Mary Remembered; tribute band April 13 with Chicago folk duoJamie O'Reilly & Michael S mith, April 20 country/bluegrass/Americana group Sister Wilene, and May 3 Michigan bluegrass group Detour