A long-awaited letter from the IRS brings Historic Fort Plain Inc. one step closer to transforming the old village Universalist Church building into a haven for the arts.
The group was awarded its 501c3 non-profit status early this month, which HFP treasurer and event planner Tolga Morawski says will unlock scores of opportunities.
“The big thing is grant money,” he said.
Most federal and historic preservation grants require the non-profit status.
“It just means we’ve been vetted by the IRS and we’re a legitimate entity,” he said, “not just some guy who set up a fake charity before running off to South America.”
In the few weeks since acquiring the new status, HFP has applied and is in the running for a $2,750 Preservation League of NYS technical assistance grant.
The Preservation League could not be reached Monday to comment on the grant, but Morawski said HFP’s chances of receiving the grant are pretty good.
The money would be used to hire an architect to do an inch-by-inch survey of the century-old Unity Hall building. The resulting conditions report will provide a prioritized to-do list with rough estimates of how much each project will cost.
According to Morawski, the survey is just a step on the pathway to larger grants capable of actually funding the whole project.
“It’s sort of a prerequisite,” he said. “I could walk into the building and say, ‘We need $1 million to fix this place up,’ but until we have a professional survey, we won’t know for sure.”
HFP hopes to eventually apply for a state Environmental Protection Fund grant in the six-figure range, which is how much it will likely cost to transform the 12,500-square-foot building into an arts center.
“We’re looking to do it one room at a time,” he said, “It’s too much to handle if you look at it all at once.”
The current plan is to start on the second floor, turning the main hall into a venue for local bands and performances. The first floor is currently set aside for galleries and office space for local non-profits groups.
“Somewhere in there we’d like to have a few rooms of studio space for local artists to do their work,” he said.
It’s all still hypothetical, but since the group was designated an official non-profit, the Unity Hall plans are one step closer to a reality.
A few miles to the east in Canajoharie, a similar group, The Historic West Hill School Committee, is attempting to fix up the old West Hill School building.
Hein Kraak, who is heading that group, confirmed Monday that they will be attempting to share the non-profit status with HFP.
The two organizations have already been sharing some tools and expertise, and though they plan to maintain separate boards, both Kraak and Morawski said sharing the non-profit umbrella makes sense.