Castle hoping for completion in coming weeks

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Johnny Wittnebel plays the piano with Greg Gerard playing guitar in the sanctuary at The Castle at 501 Prospect St. Jody and John Wittnebel are converting the old First Presbyterian church into an arts and entertainment center in Beloit. They hope to hold the first event at the cafe before the end of the year.

The Castle at 501 Prospect St., Beloit, is nearly ready to open parts of its domain.

“The Root Cellar,” as it will be called, will feature music acts and have the feel of an entertainment space. The cafe is located on the lower floor of the former First Presbyterian Church, and has its own entrance.

Jody Wittnebel, co-owner, said they are still waiting for parts of the kitchen to get up and running, and hoped it would be finished in the next couple of weeks.

One area Wittnebel is excited about is the creation of a new music conservatory program. Music lessons are available in piano, guitar, bass, percussion, voice, trumpet and music education. Four music educators are available for the six-week lessons, and they start with children as young as 2 years old, Wittnebel said.

The program is in partnership with Youth Unite, a non-profit organization founded by the Wittnebel’s to combat bullying in school.

“Music is good not just in developing a good musician, but also in brain development,” Wittnebel said. “Right now we have a wonderful team of music educators. They are all professionally educated musicians.”

One of the teachers is Greg Gerard, the operations director for the Beloit International Film Festival (BIFF) and the Beloit Janesville Symphony.

“The sky is really the limit on what we can do,” he said.

Group classes are $36 for six weeks and are broken down into age groups. Introduction to music for tots ranges from ages 2 to 6; Basic Music Education is for ages 6 to 11 and Jazz Theory and Composition is for ages 9 and up.

Wittnebel said art classes will also be held in conjunction with the music lessons. The Mommy and Me art classes are for children ages 2 to 5 years old.

The classes will be taught by Nikole Wagner, owner of Doodles, an art class facility located at 1406 Willowbrook Road in Beloit. The four-week classes are $32 and the three week classes are $24. Classes start on Dec. 2 with more dates available online at www.thecastlebeloit.com.

Wittnebel said she is excited for the music and arts classes to start, which will be held in one of the converted classrooms at the old church.

“We’re hoping to get some grant money so we can offer scholarships so everyone will have a chance to bring their kids for music lessons,” she said. “The goal is to really have it be interactive for parents and little ones. It fits with the vision of the Castle to have healthy, happy people. We want people to leave a little happier and healthier.”

Wittnebel said they are waiting to get their occupancy permit from the city in about a week, and then the cafe in the basement should be able to open soon after that.

Her husband, John Wittnebel said The Root Cellar will feature top notch musicians. The cafe won’t have scheduled hours, and the performances will be scheduled in advance.

“This will be a place that people aspire to play at we hope,” he said.

The council approved the liquor license in June, and an occupancy permit is needed before they can purchase the license. Liquor licenses expire after six months if not purchased, and John said he anticipates having something scheduled in the month of December.

The Wittnebel’s planned to be a BIFF venue, however, they weren’t sure they could have the viewing area ready in time for February. John said they plan on hosting screening events for BIFF in 2015.

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