We have identified two key properties for redevelopment in the Arts District for which the District could play a role determining future use of the buildings. It will be up to the District board to determine the right time and method to engage with these properties, and the District could approach these properties independently or with other tenants such as restaurant or local developer. While determining District goals, the Board should consider these opportunities and how they could best support those goals.


A striking visual as you enter downtown Spencer, the church-turned-event space known as Gary’s on the River acted as a hub for creativity and building community until it closed in 2018. In every visioning session, residents expressed a desire to see this space reactivated, and many said what was missing from Spencer was the type of programming that once filled Gary’s and The Bear. Indeed, Creative Placemaking in Spencer was first embodied by Gary’s, and this space should once again act as the catalyst to further cultural development.

Due to its proximity to both downtown and the Riverfront, reactivating Gary’s will be the project that ties the two areas together and kickstarts redevelopment, offering a space where local nonprofits can collaborate, new events can be tested and refined, community can come together for private events and weddings, and a new restaurant can provide the type of gathering space missing from Spencer.

Long-term, the Spencer Arts District board should determine if a permanent physical presence is desired. Gary’s presents a strong choice, as the restaurant, yoga studio, and potential for private events would provide a revenue stream for the District. Should another developer or owner purchase the building, the Arts District should work closely with the new owner to determine options for Arts District programming in the 2nd floor at a reduced rate.

Gary's on the River Outside
Gary's on the River (inside)
Gary's on the River Inside 2


The first floor could be split between the existing tenant to the west and a new restaurant to the east half. A new kitchen and updated floor plan could open the space and provide a scaled-down restaurant concept. The existing tenant could provide both a new audience and a reliable source of revenue for the nonprofit.



The Sparkler Eatery and Taproom will offer a casual full-service restaurant with a mix of dining room and bar seating as well as a strong carryout component. Taking its name from one of Spencer’s most notable events – the Great Spencer Fire and the sparkler that began it – the menu will take a gastropub (new twists on traditional favorites) culinary approach. The restaurant will be located on the ground floor of the building located at 24 Park St in Spencer. The recommendation is to renovate to create a 94+ seat restaurant and bar using approximately 60% of the square footage (2,400 square feet) for the dining area and the remaining 40% (1,600 square feet) for the kitchen, storage, and preparation area. A second upstairs space will be connected to the restaurant operation but used only as an event/catering space. The owner/operator of The Sparkler will have exclusive catering rights on the upstairs space and hold the liquor license for the event venue.

A full restaurant plan is available in Appendix N.


The first floor tenant, currently a Yoga studio, should remain, providing both revenue for the nonprofit as well as additional foot traffic to the space.


The second floor of Gary’s could act as a new performance and event space, with programming happening Wednesday – Sunday to begin with. Along with concerts and other performances, the space could act as a destination for private events, from weddings to workplace retreats in a desirable setting on the Little Sioux River. With a kitchen already installed, the space lends itself well to private events where food preparation is required.


With the second floor as a dedicated event space, the space can act as a home for new events, collaborations, and co-productions with other groups. Flexibility will be key – begin with a programming slate in mind, but be open to new ideas and rethinking under-attended programs.

New programs can include:

  • Spare Change Theatre


  • Live Music


  • Cooking Classes


  • Open Mic, Trivia, and other social events


  • Co-productions with other local nonprofits and businesses


  • Movie Nights


  • Comedy / Improv


  • Wine & Paint events


  • Musician / Theater Artist Residencies


Long-term, several capital improvements would be necessary for the long-term success of the building’s programming and full functionality. These include:

  • New elevator: Replacing the current elevator with a standard size commercial elevator will allow greater flexibility in programming on the second floor and will contribute to a greater accessibility to the space.


  • Permanent stage lighting and sound system


  • Office space / dressing rooms


  • First floor kitchen buildout & space improvements


  • Increased storage facilities

A full budget and program plan for the Gary’s space was developed during the process of creating this Action Plan. That budget is included in Appendix O.

Hallmark Building Exterior
Hallmark Building Interior


A full budget and program plan for the Glass Block space was developed during the process of creating this Action Plan. That budget is included in Appendix P. With the availability of Gary’s for performance programs, we recommend the Glass Block Building be used for additional rehearsal, production, gallery, and artist studio space.

Also known as the Hallmark Building, this space currently sits as one of the largest empty properties on Grand Avenue. The District should consider future uses for this building, particularly given the proximity to Arts on Grand. Artist studios could occupy all three floors, as well as additional gallery space, rehearsal rooms, and overflow storage or classroom space for Spencer Community Theater. Long-term, Arts on Grand could function as a program within the Spencer Arts District – Arts on Grand programming and staffing would remain the same, but administrative and fundraising costs could be absorbed into the larger organization.