SARATOGA SPRINGS — Efforts to turn Universal Preservation Hall, a historic former church, into a 700-seat theater are moving forward, with construction starting as early as next month.
The 25 Washington St. building, which was built in 1871, was saved from demolition in 2003. Since then, the venue has hosted small events, including Orchard Project, a New York City-based theater group.
In July 2015, Proctors announced it would handle management and marketing for the more-than-12,000-square-foot facility, with plans to convert the former Methodist Episcopal church into a theater.
Proctors CEO Philip Morris said Universal Preservation Hall will be operational about 200 nights a year, once the work is complete.
“About 50 percent will be performances, 25 percent will be civic for events like mayoral debates, and the other 25 percent will be for rentals,” he said. “It’s really going to be a music venue more than anything else.”
Potential regional users include Saratoga Youth Symphony, Skidmore College and Saratoga Arts.
Morris said $6.5 million has been raised so far through tax credits and financial gifts. He added that on Thursday, he submitted a $1 million Restore New York grant application.
The Restore New York program helps municipalities pay for revitalization efforts of commercial and residential properties. The program also seeks to promote community development and neighborhood growth by eliminating and redeveloping blighted properties.
Michele Madigan, Saratoga Springs’ finance commissioner, said the projected cost of the Universal Preservation Hall renovation is $8.7 million.
“There’s a 10 percent match for the investment, so the $100,000 total would be split with Universal Preservation Hall,” she said. “Each party would contribute $50,000 toward the project.”
Universal Preservation Hall. (Provided)
Madigan said City Council has pledged to invest regardless of whether the Restore New York grant is received.
“There’s a lot of good that can come from a project like this,” she said. “It will bring 80,000 visitors annually as a result.”
Madigan added that the yearly economic impact of Universal Preservation Hall is projected at $6.2 million.
Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association Vice President Joyce Ure, who owns Cudney’s Cleaners on Aletta Street, said business owners are excited about the project.
“It will bring people downtown throughout the year,” she said. “The race track and [Saratoga Performing Arts Center] are great for the summer, and the City Center is great for conventions, but this will bring value year-round, which we’re very excited about.
“It’s not only great for locals, but it will bring people to the city and bring more business downtown.”
Morris said the grant decision should be known in the first quarter of 2018. Construction bids are expected in January, and the goal is to open the entertainment venue in the fall of 2019.
Morris said that, while renovation efforts to stabilize the building began in 2003, there is still a lot of work to do.
“There’s no heating system or electric, and it needs walls moved, a new entrance and elevator,” he said. “It’s truly a shell.”
Once Universal Preservation Hall is open to the public, Morris said the impact on Saratoga would be substantial.
“It’ll be operating year-round, which should make a significant impact on the streets of Saratoga, especially in the wintertime,” he said. “It’s also a different kind of performance space with a center stage and seating all around.
“It’ll be a pretty impressive facility.”