Proctors in Schenectady could help transform the Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs into a “niche” arts and entertainment facility that would help fill the gaps left by other venues around the Capital Region, a recent usage study determined.
The 52-page report submitted to Proctors late last month found the hall faces strong regional competition and will require more strategic planning for its programing to be successful. But the study also determined Proctors would bring the necessary know-how and reputation needed to “nudge” the hall into sustained forward momentum.
“Our recommendation, then, is to pursue a fairly significant set of physical and operational investments that enhance the capabilities and role of the building as a community cultural entertainment and event venue — a community living room for Saratoga Springs and a regional venue for certain programs and partners,” stated Duncan Webb of Webb Management Services Inc. in the study.
The study also recommended a number of capital improvements to the building, including the transformation of its main sanctuary into a functional and flexible space that maximizes seating capacity and includes state-of-the-art equipment for a wide variety of performance art — from musical acts to film. In addition, the study suggests building a catering kitchen, installing elevators and upgrading the downstairs community area into a smaller multipurpose room for theatrical, music or dance performances.
Another change suggested would be for the hall, which now has only one part-time office manager, to hire a full-time staff, including an events manager and a worker for facility maintenance. The study also suggested the hall create an integrated ticketing system similar to the one in place at Proctors.
With a potential capacity of 800, the hall would fall among Saratoga Springs’ medium-sized spaces for meetings and special events. The study found the hall will need “significant and ongoing investment” to allow it to remain competitive with other area venues.
“It would seem to us that the Universal Preservation Hall could fill a niche not being filled by other regional arts and entertainment facilities on the basis of its size, shape, character, potential functionality and flexibility,” Webb stated in the study. “There is clearly a gap in local facilities to be filled by [the hall], but the regional competition is more intense and will require more strategic planning around programming and promotion.”
Organizationally, the hall would keep its nonprofit status, would continue to own the building, maintain its own board of directors and conduct its own fundraising drives. Proctors would have a contractual relationship with the hall as its operator.
In October, Proctors announced it would conduct a two-part study to determine whether it can feasibly partner with the hall to help deliver a top-notch regional performance place to downtown Saratoga Springs.
The first study was to determine potential uses for the hall and the second is to determine whether the two organizations can raise the money necessary to at last complete the renovation of the former Universal Baptist Church.
The church was condemned and facing demolition before it was stabilized more than a decade ago. An anonymous donation of $1 million in 2003 allowed a massive renovation of the building to get under way, but fell woefully short of the estimated $3 million in work needed to complete the job.
The effort with Proctors started after the hall’s donations began to dry up at the onset of the economic recession. Work continues at the hall even now, but at a much slower pace than when the project to preserve the landmark church first began.
Philip Morris, Proctors’ chief executive officer, was encouraged by the study.
He said the study outlines the potential value the hall could have for Saratoga Springs and the activities that it could host that would justify seeing the ongoing renovation to its completion.
“I think it outlines a fair amount of activities that the community will find interesting,” he said of the study.
The second part of the study is expected to be completed sometime in April. Once returned, the leadership of Proctors and the hall will then decide whether establishing a relationship will be fruitful.
Teddy Foster, the president of the hall’s board of directors, was excited by the initial findings of the study.
She said it helps to reaffirm some of the thoughts she first had about teaming up with Proctors.
“We want to be a place where people can come together for all things,” she said. “In that way our missions are aligned.”