Partnership to Enhance Local Arts Scene In Saratoga

Proctors of Schenectady and Universal Preservation Hall (UPH) in Saratoga Springs are forming a permanent strategic alliance, the entities jointly announced at a press conference held Thursday afternoon at Universal Preservation Hall, where leadership, staff, and board members of the venues gathered to celebrate the new partnership and what they consider to be a powerful step towards greater regionalism in the arts.

“This is a big moment for Proctors and for Universal Preservation Hall,” Proctors CEO Philip Morris said after sharing the news.

The partnership, similar to the relationship that Proctors has with Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, came only after a thorough feasibility study was done, showing strong opportunities for enhanced programming for the Saratoga region.

Located at 25 Washington St. in downtown Saratoga Springs, Universal Preservation Hall is an historic 1871 church that has been transformed into a performing arts education and entertainment venue. Its restoration, which began in 2004, was a community project that resulted from the efforts of a group of dedicated and visionary Saratogians who wouldn’t let the space be turned into a parking lot.

“The wrecking ball was sitting outside,” UPH president Teddy Foster recalled at Thursday’s event, but a group of locals saw the condemned building’s worth and fought for it.  It originally took nearly $3 million to stabilize the building, Foster continued. “It was in rough shape.”

Today, the 7,000 square-foot performing arts space is equipped to host some events, but it isn’t quite completed. “We’re only halfway finished,” Foster explained. The building still needs and an elevator, air conditioning and heat, among other upgrades.

Therefore, Proctors and Universal Preservation Hall are launching a capital campaign for $5.5 million, of which a little over one million is already available through historic tax credits. An additional $350,000 has also already been committed through strong board relationships.

So, the campaign has about $2.8 million left to raise to get the job done, which the board expects to do by March or April of 2017.  Once finished, Universal Preservation Hall, will be able to house concerts of all types, wedding receptions, lectures, dance performances, theater productions, corporate meetings, art gallery events film festivals and film series, among other types of gatherings and events.  In the hall’s first year of operation, the board projects to have about 200 nights of activity.  Morris described the space’s purpose as a “community living room.”

Foster hopes this campaign will turn Universal Preservation Hall into “the cultural center for all of Saratoga, right in downtown.”

Before that dream is realized, however, “There’s a lot of work to be done,” said developer Sonny Bonacio of Bonacio Construction Inc. He will serve as the chairman of the campaign.

“This project is going to be something that the entire community should get behind,” Bonacio said.

The soon-to-be fully functional venue is expected to create a significant economic impact on Saratoga Springs’ downtown area and beyond.

“It’s awesome,” said Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce president Todd Shimkus, noting it will help grow the area’s creative economy while attracting visitors to the Spa City.

“Another great amenity, another great partnership,” he said.

A supporter from the start, the chamber contributed in funds for the feasibility study about two years ago.

”We wanted to see what this partnership might be capable of doing and what might be possible here, “ he said. “It’s exciting to have Proctors - that name, that brand - here in Saratoga.”

“It’s an exciting time to be in Saratoga Springs,” said Mayor Joanne Yepsen in a press release. “This alliance will further enrich our culture and make downtown more vibrant year round than ever before. It’s one more reason Saratoga Springs should be considered a premier arts destination.”

For more information on Proctors visit www.proctors.org.