Hat tricks, diplomas, fouls, supper plates: People have picked up all four at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
It’s the biggest house in Warren County, 4,800 seats above hockey ice, formal stage or basketball rims, depending on the season. People have celebrated high school graduations on the main floor; wedding receptions, business conventions and bingo nights have been held in the center’s expansive Heritage Hall.
Some changes have affected the fortunes of the center, and more may be coming. Suzanna M. Bernd, the center’s executive director since 2000, may find herself out of a job if Glens Falls decides to hand over facility management to a professional administrator. The city is currently talking to Global Spectrum, the same firm that handles events for Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center and other places.
And there’s a chance the American League Hockey, absent from Glens Falls since the Adirondack Red Wings ended 20 years on city ice in 1999, could return to the brick hall on the Hudson River.
The center’s large outdoor sign, which shows film clips and animation for coming events, extensively promoted Saturday night’s AHL game between the Albany River Rats and Binghamton Whalers. The River Rats have played two other “home” games in Glens Falls this winter, as the league — and community — gauges support. The December and February contests were both well-attended.
High school hoops mecca
But the center is more than sticks and skaters. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association boys’ basketball championships, a Glens Falls staple since 1981, will begin Friday and run through next weekend. The state’s Federation Tournament of Champions will be held March 28 to 30.
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“It’s the single largest event in downtown Glens Falls; more than 20,000 people come to downtown Glens Falls that weekend,” Bernd said of the public high school tourney.
The center was used to big crowds during its early days. The $7 million building opened in May 1979, and attracted big concerts such as the Beach Boys, Grateful Dead and Rod Stewart. But other arenas opened around the country, including Albany’s $68.6 million Knickerbocker Arena (now the Times Union Center) in 1990, and larger acts began settling into larger buildings.
Glens Falls still had the Red Wings, though, and people made the center both a weeknight and weekend gathering spot as the Wings won four Calder Cups in their 20-year history. But AHL competition arrived in the Albany market in 1990 and helped doom the Wings, whose parent Detroit Red Wings decided to move the franchise to Toledo, Ohio, after the 1999 season.
Paul E. Pontiff, president of the Glens Falls Civic Center Foundation, the nonprofit group in charge of raising funds to pay for building renovations, says a steady tenant is key to the center’s future. “Entertainment alone is probably not going to do the job,” he said.
Pontiff said six companies are interested in naming rights, if the right tenant comes along. “I’ve talked to more people, including corporate clients of mine, who say, ‘If we get an AHL team back here, I want eight tickets or I want 10 tickets, but if we have anything less, I don’t want any tickets.’ ”
There’s still activity. The 2007 concert schedule included rock and pop stars such as Evanescence, Amy Grant and Foo Fighters. In addition to high school basketball, school wrestlers and volleyball players are in action in Glens Falls. So are farmers, who conduct an indoor market in the center lobby every Tuesday during the fall and winter. And exercise walkers, who pay $10 a year to walk the circular path above dark green and light green cushioned seats.
The market does not attract many shoppers.
“It’s on an odd day,” said Richard Sandora, who owns the Northeast Corner Herb Store in Fort Ann, and coordinates the market. “People aren’t always available to come on Tuesday afternoon, but [Civic Center officials] give it to us for a very reasonable price.”
Bernd says the center remains a large part of the community.
“There are alternative locations to go to sporting and entertainment events,” she said, “but they’re all in excess of an hour’s drive, and it makes the opportunities for people more challenging, especially with today’s price of gas.”