Michael Miller's vision extends beyond the Renaissance Theatre, beyond even the current Imagination District.
Last week, the Renaissance announced that Miller was leaving the organization after being a part of it for 20 years. Miller, 61, said he was "ready for his next adventure."
His next adventure will be as CEO of the Imagination District Alliance, which is a special improvement district.
A special improvement district (SID) is a defined geographic area in which property owners elect to pay an additional assessment in order to fund public improvements and services that benefit the district. The purpose of an SID is to support the growth and development of a business district through services that enhance the area’s vibrancy, improve its safety and cleanliness, and attract investment.
The local SID will expand on the current Imagination District to include the corridor from Marion Avenue and Park Avenue West to Main Street and Fourth Street.
In 2017, Miller worked with Fred Boll, Buckeye Imagination Museum executive director, to launch the Imagination District campaign, a $6.5 million collaborative capital campaign to establish the Imagination District.
The project has now successfully renovated two defunct buildings along Park Avenue West to house the Ren’s Theatre 166 black box venue and the new Buckeye Imagination Museum, which opened Wednesday.
Miller's new job will expand on Imagination District
"It (SID) is continuing what Fred and I started, that development, so that we're not just doing stuff up here," Miller said of Park Avenue West. "It's establishing a really formal arts district."
The SID will have a separate board of directors. A steering committee is considering projects. There is a three- to five-year window, Miller said.
"We'll have more definite ideas in the next month or so," he said.
Miller said the Buckeye Imagination Museum could attract 200,000 visitors to the downtown.
"What do those people need?" he asked in terms of retail and restaurants. "What do they expect when they come here?"
Miller added an SID could provide security and maintenance.
"They don't replace city services. They enhance them," he said.
In 2018, Miller gradually began to phase out of his role at the Renaissance to focus on the Imagination District. Chelsie Thompson became the president then. She also will assume Miller's role.
"That became my primary focus instead of day-to-day operations," Miller said.
He said Thompson was his first hire at the Renaissance and called her "the perfect person to carry the torch." Thompson has served as president since 2018, having held prior positions as director of operations and symphony and education manager since she started with the organization in 2010.
She returned Miller's compliment.
“The Renaissance wouldn’t be what it is today without Mike’s contributions to our growth and long-term vision,” she said. “He is truly a credit to this organization’s success, and we have no doubts that the positive impact that he always brought to the Ren and our team will be felt in the greater community for years to come.”
Miller became Renaissance board member in 2002
In 2002, Miller first became involved with the Ren as a member of the board of directors. He spent nine years as a board member, the last three as the chairman.
While serving on the board of directors during a period of significant challenges, Miller was asked to step in to lead the organization as its president and CEO in January 2010. His combination of being a successful business owner and a dedicated performing arts supporter, especially in the Mansfield community, has always given him a unique understanding and appreciation for the Renaissance.
Partnering with board Chairman Rand Smith, Miller helped restore the organization’s financial condition and establish a strong team of Renaissance directors and employees.
It wasn't easy. When Miller took over, the Ren was $1.2 million in debt.
"There were issues with a lot of the staff," he said. "It was really a cleanup period for several years. I did have a love for the theater. I really did want it to succeed.
"I was not going to let this fail, not on my watch, so to speak."
Instead, it has thrived. The Ren no longer has any long- or short-term debt. It survived the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Mike’s leadership not only strengthened theater operations,” said current Renaissance Board Chair Jason Painley, “but also established a strategic direction that will enable the Renaissance to continue to be recognized regionally, and nationally, for excellence in the performing arts. We extend Mike a sincere ‘thank you’ for his many years of visionary service.”
Miller thought now would be the perfect time to make his move, though he will remain with the Ren as a consultant and will perform "as time permits."
Departing CEO was talented child singer/actor
Many might not realize that he was a very successful child singer and actor. The Mansfield native and 1979 Lexington High School graduate got his start at age 6 as a member of the boys choir at the Mansfield YMCA.
He acquired a manager and went on national tours with companies from 1971-75. Miller appeared with Cathy Rigby in "Peter Pan" and with Leonard Nimoy in "Oliver."
By the age of 12, he had debuted at the Kennedy Center, New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and Los Angeles Civic Light Opera.
When he was 13, Miller and his family went to Los Angeles to pursue his career. He would study with a tutor while performing, always returning to Lexington Local Schools.
Miller said his freshman year was the first time his school year was not interrupted by his acting and singing career.
After graduating, Miller went to the College of Wooster for a year, studying voice, before transferring to Florida State to major in musical theater. He stayed there for two years, leaving about a year shy of graduation.
In 1983, Miller and a group of friends moved to New York City to open a recording studio. He became the vice president of Soundprism Creative Services Inc. and later the owner of MCM Productions, production companies that designed and programmed electronic music mapping systems for several Broadway shows, including "Chess," "City of Angels" and "Les Miserables" .
In 1993 he moved to Los Angeles and became the chief engineer of Sticky Notes LLC, where he produced and engineered music for many films and television shows, including "Party of Five" and "The Crew."
He returned to Mansfield to raise family
Miller returned to Mansfield in 1996 to raise his family with wife Deborah and has been president of Miller's Diamond Jewelry, a 60-year-old family business, since that time. Their son Kyle was born in 1995.
"My wife and I always wanted to raise our family in the Midwest," Miller said. They also have a daughter Jess, 23, who helps run the family business.
With so much happening in Mansfield, he said now is the time to follow his vision.
"It just makes sense to keep that momentum going," Miller said.
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Mansfield's Renaissance Theatre CEO taking on new position