Nichole Like

Executive Director Nichole Like works in her office at the The Pantheon: A Business and Innovation Theatre, located at 428 Main St. Armed with the hope of a lessening pandemic, officials there are eager for a very busy 2021.

This year saw the highly-anticipated opening of the Pantheon: A Business and Innovation Theatre.

In the month the co-working space has been open to the public, it’s garnered a dozen full-time members and even more takers for its less expensive day passes.

College students, too, have taken advantage of the space.

That said, a surging pandemic has left the vast space and soaring ceilings of the historic theater-turned-business incubator largely quiet.

Officials, however, are hopeful, as the pandemic eases and people get back to work, to see the Pantheon fully breathe and thrive in 2021.

“This space has given me a lot of hope,” said Pantheon executive director Nichole Like. “It’s given me hope that we can turn our population decline around, that we can keep more young people here.

“We want to create a hub of innovation and creativity and thought and entrepreneurism,” she said excitedly. “Vincennes was once a real center for all that, and we want to reinvigorate that spirit. We want to see our businesses grow and thrive once again.”

The Pantheon opened on Dec. 1 after more than a year of construction.

The city and county more than two years ago agreed to jointly embark upon the project, eventually hiring Wolfe Construction to do a $2.4 million renovation of the space — taking the historic theater at 428 Main St., restoring some of its most unique details and adding all the modern touches and amenities necessary for a successful co-working space.

The theater, now that it’s up and running, is largely governed by a its own operations board, and Like oversees day-to-day business.

Like, too, has hired Bridget Butcher to serve as a space manager; her job is to greet potential new clients and visitors, take care of members using the space and develop programming, which will be a large focus for the Pantheon in 2021.

Butcher, already, has started doing Ted Talk Tuesdays, a program offered both at the Pantheon itself as well as virtually via its social media platforms.

“That’s one of our biggest goals for 2021,” Like said, “to just do more and more of that.

“We’ve been looking at other co-working spaces, downloading calendars, and soon we’ll be putting together our own calendar for the first quarter of 2021.”

And the focus, Like said, is to lack focus at all. Their hope, she said, is to offer a variety programs to benefit the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs alike.

“Everything from professional development, marketing, patent or copyright law, also just personal development, more Ted Talks, things that look at how to be more present in the moment,” she said.

In addition to programming, officials at the Pantheon in 2021, too, will embark on yet another major construction project.

Thanks, in part, to a federal grant, a near $1 million exterior restoration — which will include everything from tuck-pointing to new gutters, windows and doors as well as a 1935-inspired marquee — is set to begin this spring.

Some of those grand dollars, too, will go toward additional technology, things like an updated security system so the Pantheon can be open around the clock as well as items like a 3-D printer, laser cutter, commercial sewing machine and CAD-enabled laptops for a maker’s space.

Screens, too, will be added all around the building.

Ultimately, however, the Pantheon will continue to make a priority the people and ideas existing within its four walls.

“Our goal will be in continuing to build our co-working community,” Like said. “We’ll be nurturing those people, helping to make this their home.

“We want more members, a full calendar, just people coming in and out the doors. And we believe that will happen, once this pandemic subsides, it will.

“And we want to be ready.”

Like, too, said 2021 will be about forming even more community partnerships. Already, the Knox County Community Foundation has moved in, and the Pantheon will reach out to local groups and non-profits to invite them to use the space.

Just this week, she said, members of the local Kiwanis club used the Pantheon for an event.

The Pantheon, too, will strive to be an anchor for the fostering of new and innovative relationships, such as those with AgriNovus Indiana, a non-profit with a mission to build connections in the fields of agricultural, science and technology, as well as the Purdue University School of Chemical Engineering, one of the Pantheon’s original benefactors.

Agricultural technology will continue to play a major roll. The Pantheon has scheduled for Feb. 25 an Ag Tech Startup Showcase, Like said.

At least five ag-related small businesses, all of them focused in technology, will be on hand at the Pantheon to show off their products and speak to local farmers.

“This will be an event for local, progressive farmers and producers to come and network and hear about these ag startups and see if any of these would help with operations on their farms,” she said.

The Pantheon also will serve as a liaison between local schools and Purdue, specifically in terms of building STEM education opportunities.

Already, a training session for interested teachers was held last year. The Pantheon is aiming to launch that program, which will offer hands-on methods of teaching chemistry and physics and stipends to participating teachers, in the fall of 2020.

And sometime in 2021, when it’s safe, the Pantheon will host its biggest celebration of all— one to mark the historic theater’s 100th birthday.

So there is so much more to come, Like said.

“Sometimes we get in our own little corner of the state, and we’re not always aware of what’s going on around us,” she said. “We don’t always push ourselves.

“I’ve developed such an awareness about the opportunities we have, the opportunities that exist for our community,” she went on. “The way to prosperity and wealth is through new businesses, and that’s what we want to do here. It’s great to bring industry and big box stores here; that’s part of it. But organically-grown businesses, like the ones that will start here, that’s how real wealth is created.”

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