Construction is underway for the Surf Ballroom Music Enrichment & Immersive Center and new Surf District gateway feature and streetscape improvements in Clear Lake, Iowa.

On Wednesday, April 17, 2024, the City of Clear Lake and the North Iowa Cultural Center & Museum commemorated a significant milestone in the city’s cultural and economic development with the groundbreaking ceremony for the Music Enrichment & Immersive Center and the launch of the Surf District revitalization project. The event marked the official commencement of construction for the expanded and relocated Music Enrichment & Immersive Center, alongside the introduction of a new Surf District gateway feature and streetscape improvements.

The Music Enrichment & Immersive Center expansion will continue the Surf Ballroom’s mission of cultural engagement and education. The design will be reminiscent of the original Surf Ballroom that was built on the shores of Clear Lake, offering entertainment until being destroyed by a fire in 1947. The current Surf Ballroom reopened across the street from its original location on July 1, 1948.  The new facility will complement the Surf Ballroom & Museum and have a visitor center, box office, gift shop, expanded lesson studios, conference space for 100 guests with a catering kitchen, and an immersive exploratory space spanning 1,800 square feet using virtual projection technology similar to Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience. This immersive space will be dedicated to showcasing the Surf Ballroom’s influence on music history, spanning from the golden era of big band sound to the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll, and its ongoing impact on modern-day musicians. The development of this center enhances the Surf Ballroom’s enduring legacy in shaping the musical landscape.

For those unfamiliar with the Surf Ballroom, its significance in music history cannot be overstated. This venue gained national recognition after hosting the final performance of legendary musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson on February 2, 1959. The tragic event, known as “The Day the Music Died,” forever etched the Surf Ballroom into the annals of music history.

Beyond this pivotal moment, the Surf Ballroom has served as a cornerstone of cultural enrichment for Clear Lake and beyond. Since its opening in 1933, it has welcomed an array of musical acts spanning various genres, from big band to rock and roll, country, and more. Its stage has been graced by iconic performers, making it a revered venue cherished by music enthusiasts worldwide and is now celebrated as the place Where Music Lives.

“With this groundbreaking comes the opportunity to continue to teach and enrich future generations of all that our beloved Surf represents,” stated Connie Valens, sister of musician Ritchie Valens.

The Surf District project has received significant support through grants, including the $4.37 million Destination Iowa Grant awarded in December 2022 and a recent $400,000 Community Attraction and Tourism (CAT) Grant. These grants, along with private investments, represent a combined commitment of $35.2 million toward the revitalization of the Surf District. This substantial investment underscores Clear Lake’s dedication to becoming a premier destination, offering unparalleled cultural experiences and recreational opportunities for both residents and visitors alike.

April 17 holds a special place in the history of the Surf Ballroom, as it marks the day of its official opening in 1933. Now, 91 years later, the groundbreaking ceremony for the Surf Ballroom Music Enrichment Center adds another chapter to its legacy. With the event, Clear Lake reaffirms its commitment to honoring its past while embracing the promise of a vibrant future.

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