“Launch the Legacy”

Launch The Legacy Capital Campaign

The Purpose of the “Launch the Legacy” Campaign is to increase patron, staff, and artist safety and accessibility while maintaining the structural and historical integrity of the building and the organization.

Community Support is imperative to the continued success of the Fairmont Opera House.  Since its inception in 1901, the Fairmont Opera House has relied on Fairmont and the surrounding communities to propel its mission forward.  Through the years as the Fairmont Opera House, Haynic Theatre, Nicholas Theatre, and now today as Fairmont Opera House, Inc., we have leaned on and still lean on our members, community supporters, and patrons.

We have again reached a time where we need to ask even more of our beloved supporters.  The Board of Directors and I have decided that it is time for a capital campaign fundraiser.  Built over a century ago, the Fairmont Opera House has aged well, but is in need of our tender love and care to keep it standing for generations to come.

In order to increase patron, staff and artist safety and accessibility, we need to make critical repairs, as well as other significant enhancements to the building.  To be more welcoming and accessible, we need to add ramps, handrails, and an elevator, all of which would make us compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.One of these such improvements is the addition of ADA accessibility in the form of ramps, handrails, and an elevator.

These repairs and enhancements are a major investment and we will need your help.  Please consider joining us in building a financial surplus large enough to accomplish our goals.  Keep in mind that as a 501C3 organization, you can deduct any donation to the Fairmont Opera House from your taxes.

Remember, this is your Opera House.  We are not owned by nor do we receive operating funds from the City of Fairmont, Martin County, or any school district.  This building belongs to you, the members of the community.

Blake Potthoff
Executive Director
Fairmont Opera House, Inc

Media Coverage

Fairmont Opera House director: Roof Repairs a ‘Band-Aid’ 

September 25, 2019

FAIRMONT — Looks can be deceiving.

It might have looked like the Fairmont Opera House was getting a new roof when workers recently were spotted atop the building, but it was just a temporary repair to relieve the ice dam problem that caused hundreds of gallons of water to pour into the historic building last spring.

“This is just a Band-Aid on a large problem,” said Blake Potthoff, executive director of the historic venue. “It’s going to alleviate any further damage until we can do a full roof replacement. It’s going to eliminate the ice damming so we can try to mitigate the damage that’s happening inside the building.”

The Opera House board of directors hired Hammel Green and Abrahamson of Minneapolis, which Potthoff called a premier historic building engineering firm, to conduct an historic structure report, which includes more than 300 pages of findings encompassing the building’s history and ranking the areas in need of repair.

“They have given us, based on their expert opinion, the location, the issue and a priority ranking of the things that need to be taken care of. The most immediate concern was the ice dams that were present last year,” Potthoff said.

The temporary repair will protect the building’s interior from sustaining additional damage until the entire roof can be replaced, a project tentatively scheduled for 2021.

“We have to do this right. That’s why we’ve invested the money with HGA,” Potthoff said. “We have invested a lot of time and money and resources to make sure we are doing this right according to the Minnesota Historical Society standards, according to the Secretary of Interior’s standards, the National Park Service, the National Historic Register and our standards.”

Overall repairs will take time, and some work won’t be as visible as repairmen on the roof.

“There are steps and processes to go through, and we might run into things we don’t know about,” Potthoff said.

Working with HGA resulted in the realization that the 118-year-old building might need more repairs than initially anticipated. So with the greater level of need comes additional fundraising through grants and continued support from the community. The Opera House endowment fund has ensured the sustainability of the organization in perpetuity, and strong community support allows for the continuation of its popular programming.

“We’ve increased attendance by 44 percent over the last two years,” Potthoff said. “We’ve increased our budget by 185 percent. We’ve increased the shows from 12 to 30 each year.

“We want the Fairmont Opera House to last for generations to come. The people of Fairmont and this area deserve it.”

-Judy Bryan, Fairmont Sentinel

Blake & Co. to perform at the Opera House

April 2, 2019

FAIRMONT — The Blake & Co. Show is back for its second annual fundraiser event at the Fairmont Opera House at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Opera House executive director Blake Potthoff will take the stage with friends and family to raise money for the Launch the Legacy Capital Campaign. This year, the theme will be showtunes. The show is comprised of local talent and will be a relaxed, informal event.

This is the second year of the Blake & Co. Show as a yearly fundraiser to help maintain the historic building, in addition to raising money for a new building with an elevator, more restrooms, offices, meeting rooms and more. The capital campaign will increase safety, comfort and access for patrons, staff and artists while maintaining the structural and historical integrity of the Opera House.

Tickets for this show are $30, with 100 percent of the profits going to the capital campaign. Tickets are available at fairmontoperahouse.org or by calling (507) 238-4900 during office hours of 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Public responds to Fairmont Opera House plea for help

March 16, 2019

FAIRMONT — One week ago, Blake Potthoff, executive director of the Fairmont Opera House, bemoaned the damage being done to the historic building as rain water and melting snow and ice flowed down its interior walls from the roof of the building.

Water Saturation Visible from Exterior of South Wall

As he blanketed auditorium seats with a tarp in preparation for that night’s show by We Banjo 3, he talked about the architect’s recommendation on the necessity of replacing the roof and other structural repairs.

But that costs money. A lot of money.

On Monday, before he left for Arts Advocacy Days, a two-day event in the Twin Cities, Potthoff created a post on the Opera House’s Facebook page, stating he hoped to raise $1,000 by the end of March.

“I thought, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ We got $1,000 in less than 12 hours. We had $3,000 in 24 hours, and by Wednesday evening, we had $15,000. An anonymous individual gave us $10,000. Since last Saturday, we’ve raised just over $17,000,” Potthoff said Friday.

He has amended his goal to $20,000 by the end of the month, an amount he plans to use as a springboard to continue fundraising.

“We are going to keep going,” he said. “There is no reason to stop because it is going to cost more than $20,000 to fix the place. We are unsure of how much money it’s going to take. It will probably be a short-term fix to get us to the next step to replace or repair the roof. It will help mitigate the problems right now.”

Potthoff expressed surprise at the amount and the speed of the donations.

“It was unanticipated that it would be that quick,” he said. “I figured we would get the $1,000, but I didn’t think we’d get it that fast. It was surprising, but at the same time, not, because I know a lot of people care about this building.”

Potthoff took over as executive director in December 2016. At that time, the Opera House season, which runs from June through May, featured 12 shows with an average of 187 people attending each performance.

“Right now, we’re averaging 312 people per event,” he said. “Part of that is due to an increase in programming for kids. When we invited the kids and the schools, it helped bring that number up.”

A grant from the Schmeeckle Foundation paid for all student admissions to “Sleeping Beauty” and “Charlotte’s Web” performances, and a Martin County Area Foundation grant financed transportation for the students.

“This year, everything was free for the students. That’s out of the ordinary,” Potthoff said. “Usually the schools pay their way. It’s $5 per student, and that’s still a really reasonable cost. The programming we’re doing is allowing more children to experience live performance art.”

Last year, the Opera House staged 26 events. When the 2019-2020 season starts in June, the schedule will feature 30 events.

Through it all, fundraising will continue.

“We are going to be out there, telling the story and trying to raise money,” Potthoff said. “That’s what we have to do if we want to keep this building for generations to come. For me, this is just a start.”

Donations can be made online at www.fairmontoperahouse.org by clicking on the “capital campaign” tab at the top of the page or at the Fairmont Opera House Inc. Facebook page. Both are secure sights. Donations also can be dropped off during the Opera House’s business hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, or by mailing to P.O. Box 226, Fairmont, MN 56031. More information is available by calling (507) 238-4900.

-Judy Bryan, Fairmont Sentinel


Opera House in need of assistance

March 11, 2019

Water was running down the inside walls of the Fairmont Opera House on Saturday. Rain and melting snow were gushing through a hole in a corner of the attic at the rate of about three gallons a minute. The situation did not look like it would abate any time soon.

Although the damage caused a great deal of concern for Blake Potthoff, executive director of the Opera House, it was a phone call that resulted in the normally-eloquent administrator to give in to frustration and utter a couple of expletives.

Someone had called to ask if an elevator had been installed yet at the historic structure. When Potthoff replied no, the caller asked what they had done with the million dollars, referring to a $1 million bequest from the Marlin Milbrandt estate that the Opera House received in January 2018.

“It’s frustrating,” Potthoff said, indicating the water 

streaming inside the north wall. “We could put a brand new elevator in here, but if we don’t fix this, it’s not going to matter. This place won’t exist.

“With what we have to fix now, that million dollars will be gone before you know it. As 

great as that gift was, it’s not the solution to everything. That’s why we’re still asking people for money. It’s for unexpected things like this.”

The leaking began in the middle of February and become progressively worse with each passing day, only to be compounded by Saturday morning’s heavy rain. Water was flowing down the outside and inside walls, starting from the attic level and cascading through the auditorium and down to the offices and reception area in the basement.

“Even though you can see it here on the walls, just think of the all the places you can’t see it leaking,” Potthoff said. “It’s just one thing after another, and it’s bad. It’s really bad.”

He had just met on Friday with representatives from HGA, a Twin Cities engineering firm hired to do a structural report on the 118-year-old building. The report was a prelude to the proposed $10 million renovation of the existing structure and addition of offices, meeting rooms and a gallery, all ADA accessible.

“They could see daylight in the attic,” Potthoff said, pointing to the northeast corner of the building. “In those spots where they could see daylight, there is 8-10 inches of ice built up while it’s melting and running inside. Now we have the interior getting wet so it’s totally saturating the entire wall.”

He said the engineers indicated the roof was a crucial issue.

“They said the ultimate thing we’re going to have to do is replace the roof. The trusses are rotating. The walls are starting to sag out, and the roof is sinking,” Potthoff said. “Right now, everything is structurally fine. We are still going to have our shows.”

But he issued an impassioned plea for help.

“Everybody has a memory here,” he said. “If you live in this community, you have a memory here. Isn’t that memory worth something? Even if you can only give $25, that’s $25 more than we had yesterday. Whether it’s $5 or $10, you can help with this. It’s going to take everybody. It’s going to take money and volunteers and coming to our shows. It all makes a difference.”

Initial work will include taking off a portion of the roof, removing the snow and ice accumulation and patching the roof. When weather permits, the roof will be completely replaced as well as structural repairs to the trusses.

“It’s not in any danger of collapsing, but if we don’t do something…,” Potthoff said, letting his thought trail off.

-Judy Bryan, Fairmont Sentinel

Blake & Co. set to perform

April 23, 2018

FAIRMONT — If you’re looking for talented people to do a fundraising show, sometimes you don’t have to look any farther than your own house. This is particularly true if your “house” is the Fairmont Opera House.

During a recent brainstorming session on ways to raise money for the Opera House’s capital building campaign, staff and volunteers determined that the logical method to generate funds for a performance venue was, quite simply, to present a show themselves.

Thus, the concept of “Blake & Co.” was born.

“I sing. My wife sings. My brother sings. We’ll play some piano. We’ll play some guitar. We’ll sing. What could go wrong?” said Blake Potthoff, executive director of the Fairmont Opera House.

“Blake & Co.” will take the stage at the Opera House at 2 p.m. Sunday for a 90-minute show with a 15-minute intermission. Doors open at 1 p.m., with seating at 1:30 p.m. There will be beer, wine, coffee and other refreshments and snacks available in the downstairs lounge. Tickets are $30 and are available online at www.fairmontoperahouse.org, by calling (507) 238-4900 and at the door prior to the show.

The show will be a relaxed, informal event, and performers are not limited to Potthoff’s family.

“I asked others to help. We’ve got a couple of Civic Summer Theatre kids coming in, four Opera House employees, two volunteers. Plus we have kids from the elementary school coming in to play a couple of orchestra pieces,” Potthoff said.

“It’s not going to be a show that’d you’d see on tour. It’s not a polished performance. It’s raw. It’s local. It’s different. It’s a variety show. It’s personal stories.

“The whole show just kind of evolved. It proves that this building, this facility is more than just shows that come from other places. That’s what we’re trying to start — a place for the people, by the people.”

Potthoff points out the young people from the Opera House’s Children’s Theatre Program and Civic Summer Theatre that have gone on to perform in college theater productions and even professionally. In addition, Fairmont has a decades-long tradition of summer concerts by its own city band.

“How many other cities do you know that have a thriving city band?” he said.

A survey commissioned by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, a statewide arts advocacy group, supports Potthoff’s claim that there is an abundance of talent in Martin County.

“(They) did a study of all the counties in Minnesota. Other than St. Louis County, Martin County has the highest number of artists per capita outside of the Twin Cities in Greater Minnesota,” he said. “That includes photographers, singers, dancers, people who self identify as artists. That’s what drives this place. It’s what keeps this place and the Red Rock (Center for the Arts) and the (Fairmont) Concert Association and the Fairmont City Band going.”

Potthoff recently talked to a Fairmont student who was involved in high school theater productions. He and his friends enjoyed the experience so much that they have been gathering in their garages continue singing together. The conversation prompted Potthoff to put serious consideration into expanding local performances.

“There’s so much talent around here, and people don’t have a place to go, like an open mike night at a bar. There’s not many of those around,” he said. “We have this facility. If nobody else is going to do it, why can’t we? We could get together, maybe once a month. We can keep the doors open and just hang out and play.”

Potthoff wants to continue doing a similar annual show as part of a series of yearly fundraisers with a goal of raising $20,000 each year for the Opera House’s capital building campaign. Last fall, the Opera House board kicked off a $10 million improvement campaign which included buying the building to the immediate south, raz

ing the structure and erecting a new building for offices, meeting rooms, an elevator and restrooms. The new construction will increase safety and access for patrons, staff and artists while maintaining the structural and historical integrity of the original building.

“This show is not about me living my childhood dream of being on stage,” Potthoff said. “I’m just trying to raise money. The more money we raise, the faster we can build the building that has an elevator, more restrooms. 

Tickets are a little more expensive, but everything is going to the capital campaign.

“Hopefully, people will come and have a good time.”

-Judy Bryan, Fairmont Sentinel

The Marlin Milbrandt Estate

January 27, 2018

In January, the Fairmont Opera House was fortunate enough to be a beneficiary of the Marlin
Milbrandt Estate.  Below is an excerpt from an article by the Fairmont Sentinel.  To read the full piece click here: Fairmont Sentinel

Blake Potthoff, executive director of the Fairmont Opera House, recalled hearing the news during the board’s first meeting to discuss a capital improvement campaign for the historic theater. Original plans to raise between $3 million and $5 million to just repair the Opera House were enlarged to a $10 million campaign to expand and renovate with the installation of an elevator, new offices and meeting rooms.

“Everybody at the table was teary-eyed. Everybody was crying,” Potthoff said.“We wouldn’t have been able to think about an addition without this gift.”

-Judy Bryan, Fairmont Sentinel

  © 2018 Joseph Kreiss Photography for the Fairmont Opera House

One Night In Nashville

December 7, 2017

Big thanks go out to Sweet Financial Services of Fairmont, MN for hosting Songwriter City

at the Fairmont Opera House on November 18th, 2017.  This event directly benefited the Fairmont Opera House “Launch The Legacy” Capital Campaign, with 100% of the proceeds going to the fundraising effort.

In all, over $35,000 was raised to help with the Capital Campaign.  The article below was featured on KEYC TV, Mankato.

A recent fundraiser raises thousands of dollars toward the rehabilitation of a historic landmark in Fairmont.  Last month, Sweet Financial Services hosted a One Night in Nashville event at the Fairmont Opera House.  Over 300 people attended the event, raising over $35,000. Those funds will go toward updates for the Opera House.
A $10 million dollar fundraising campaign was established back in September for the 116-year-old building.  The ‘Launch the Legacy’ capital campaign says around $2.3 million dollars has been raised so far.
The renovation will include roof repairs, improved handicap accessibility and a loading dock to help improve the quality and safety for staff and visitors.

-KEYC TV, Mankato

Thank you Sweet Financial!

Opera House plans addition

September 18, 2017

FAIRMONT — An unexpected financial windfall has prompted the Fairmont Opera House board of directors to embark on a $10 million fundraising endeavor to upgrade and expand the facility.

Initial rendering of new addition circa 2017

Blake Potthoff, executive director of the Opera House, said expanding the building has been discussed for more than 20 years, but a series of events recently brought the project to the forefront.

When the Opera House’s south wall started showing signs of distress, the ISG engineering firm of Mankato was brought in for an evaluation.

“The plaster is falling away, and it’s exposing fire brick,” Potthoff said. “Fire brick is really soft. You can scratch your name with your fingernail. It’s something we would have to fix.”

Then the building directly south of the Opera House became available in May when its occupant, Ivy Blue, closed, the board was able to purchase the site.

The board also learned that funds will be coming from three sources. State Rep. Bob Gunther of Fairmont sponsored a grant of $250,000 from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, which is part of the state’s Clean Water and Legacy Amendment Fund. The Erma Rosen Foundation gave a gift of $500,000, with $400,000 for the facility and $100,000 to be used in $5,000 increments annually over the next 20 years to sponsor a show in her name. And the Opera House has received notice that it was named as a beneficiary in a Fairmont resident’s will and is set to receive about $1 million from the estate.

“We’ve raised 20 percent of our goal, and it wasn’t even public yet,” Potthoff said.

Potthoff revealed the “Launch the Legacy” fundraising campaign at Saturday’s performance of “Rave On! — The Buddy Holly Experience,” which is part of the Fairmont Opera House’s 2017-18 subscription series. Digital renditions of the proposed upgrades and expansion are available on the website www.fairmontoperahouse.org, and a “rocket” to measure donations will be posted at the building.

“The Fairmont Opera House has had 117 years of community support, and its trajectory has changed, very quickly, from kind of static to straight up, so we went with the rocket,” Potthoff said. “You can’t launch a rocket off the sand. You need a firm foundation. Our foundation is well-established so now we’re set to lift off into the next level of performances, accessibility and safety.”

The existing historic building will undergo upgrades in lighting and restrooms, roof repairs and ramping. The addition will house offices, restrooms, meeting rooms for social events and receptions, and a gallery.

“The big things that we want to cover are safety, security and accessibility for our patrons, staff and artists,” Potthoff said. “There’s work we need to do in the current facility, but that’s really about safety and security. We’ll be changing some things with lights and sound to enhance the patron experience and the artist experience and for our volunteers and staff. We ask people to go up in an electric lift or to crawl up in the attic to change the lights. That’s not safe.”

The issues with the fire brick on the southern wall will be eliminated because it will be enclosed, eliminating its exposure to the elements. There will be an elevator, ramps, new hydraulic lifts, a new loading dock and a new shop and mechanical area to build sets in the basement. Each floor will have accessible bathrooms and a small kitchen area.

“Anybody — no matter what age or physical capabilities — will be able to get anywhere,” Potthoff said. “I believe that we’ll be the first theater in the state to have wheelchair seating in the balcony.”

He was quick to offer assurance that the integrity of the historic building will not be compromised.

“We’re not changing. We’re enhancing,” he said. “It’s still the Fairmont Opera House. We’ll still have the shows that people love. We’ll still have the same seats that people sit in every year.”

Potthoff doesn’t anticipate raising the remaining amount from community donations, although he did agree to do a back flip, his first ever, on stage if that should happen. Other sources of revenue including grants and benefit concerts will be pursued.

“We (board of directors) have to invest our time and efforts as well,” he said. “We don’t just expect people to throw cash at us. That’s not how it is.

“The important thing, too, is that 90 cents of every dollar goes to this structure, with 10 cents going to our endowment fund. As we increase our physical stability and longevity, we have to, have to, have to invest in our financial longevity, so with our $10 million campaign, we’ll be putting $1 million into the endowment fund.”

The goal is to have fundraising completed by Dec. 31, 2020.

Potthoff said one of the board members offered a great analogy about the project.

“He said that it’s like when you buy a two-bedroom house and you have six kids. You have two options. You can make it work, or you can grow and expand.

“It’s a risk, but it’s worth it,” he said. “Right now, we’re at that time where things just kind of fell in our lap. It’s the right time to do this. We didn’t anticipate getting any of this funding, but you just can’t ignore it when things like this happen.”

-Judy Bryan, Fairmont Sentinel​