Things at the Universal Preservation Hall have been quiet.
But they won't be for much longer.
"We're riding this wave of momentum," said Teddy Foster, UPH’s campaign director.
Last week, the City of Saratoga Springs was awarded a $750,000 Restore New York grant, which is going to help UPH reconstruct the former church and transform it into a destination for theater, live music, community events and weddings.
"It's going to help Saratoga become a year-round destination," said Michael Eck, Proctors senior communications specialist and public relations leader of Proctors, which partnered with UPH in 2015.
"They're like Schenectady's living room. We want to be that for Saratoga," Foster said.
UPH was built in the 19 century and is known for its High Victorian Gothic architecture and for the famous guests it has featured throughout history, including William Howard Taft, Frederick Douglass and William Jennings Bryan.
In 2003 it was in danger of being condemned when community members came together to try to save it. Some work has been done to preserve it, but the vision for UPH has grown over the years.
“The building is still standing because of them. We’re tasked with moving it forward,” Foster said.
The theater will eventually have 700 seats in a theater-in-the-round setting in the Great Hall. UPH plans to hold theater productions, cabaret shows, live music and Proctors theater programs, community events and other productions year-round. Foster said UPH is also perfectly placed to collaborate with other local venues like Caffe Lena and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
According to the Capital District Regional Planning Commision, the renovations will support 101 local jobs and will have a $6.1 million impact on the local economy. The restoration project (an $8.7 million project), will serve an estimated 65,000 visitors.
“As a rapidly progressing city that has a thriving arts community, it was vital that we support all efforts to save existing buildings and increase the accessibility of these buildings,” said Saratoga mayor Meg Kelly, adding “The creation of new consumer traffic that this venue will generate is considerable for our restaurants, shops, and businesses. UPH will be an essential part of supporting our small businesses that make Saratoga Springs as distinctive and attractive as it is.”
The construction plans for the 13,000-square-foot building are nothing short of extensive. The stage will be moved toward the center of the main room. There will be tiered seating where there is now a wraparound balcony. There are also plans to install a glass atrium, which will lead to a side entrance into the building.
"We're also putting in an elevator," Foster said. It will make it easier for people with disabilities to access even the balcony.
UPH had planned to start construction last year, but the process of getting on the historical register for historic places took a bit longer than expected. They plan to start construction this summer.
“We’re planning for a late 2019 grand re-opening,” Foster said.
In order to do that, they need to raise another $750,000.
“We raised $3.3 million to save it,” Foster said. But they’re going to need a hefty sum to finish the project. Local businesses like Augie’s Restaurant, Scallions Restaurant and others are pitching in and donating a portion of their proceeds on certain days. In May, UPH will hold their traditional Saratoga Shaken or Stirred fundraiser.
Although construction has yet to begin, the stained glass windows have been taken out for repair and there are other small signs of the renovation.
For now, UPH is like Saratoga’s best-kept secret. But it won’t be for long, said Foster.