The Village of Catskill, like so many other communities in the mid-Hudson region, was once a haven for Mom-and-Pop businesses, with a wide, attractive Main Street that charmed as well as provided everything that visitors and residents needed. The enveloping town’s major economic engine was transportation – first by carriage and dray horse and ferry, later by steamer and railroad. But, in an echo of other blue-collar communities like Ellenville and Saugerties, changing times hammered Catskill into an economic abyss that village officials have struggled for decades to escape.
One answer was to bring big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot to the area – a solution as drab as it was necessary. But these days, village officials are excited by a new and drastically different approach to resuscitating the community: the renovation of a familiar old lumberyard by a Rockville, Maryland contemporary dance organization that will support choreographers, develop new works and, it’s hoped, bring new business and a new vibe to the village.
In relocating from its original home in suburban Washington, DC, the American Dance Institute (soon to be christened ADI/Lumberyard) will become the latest arts-related business to flee exorbitant big-city rents and leases in favor of the sort of peace, quiet and floor space that other companies have discovered in the mid-Hudson region. Heavy industry is long a thing of the past in communities like Catskill. Village officials are hoping that a lighter sort of industry – one that can send bodies and hearts flying – will give it a new and successful identity.
If it works as well as hoped, Catskill won’t be the first to remake itself from an industrial wasteland into an arts-centered community. Over in the nearby, even-tinier village of Tannersville, legendary dancer/choreographer Twyla Tharp has just concluded a six-week residency at the Catskill Mountain Foundation’s Orpheum Film and Performing Arts Center. (Tannersville is also the home of the 23Arts Summer Music & Jazz Festival.) Across the Hudson, the City of Hudson, having created for itself a reputation for being an antiques hub, has made a name for itself as the home of Etsy, the Web-based “global crafts marketplace.” Looking south to the Dutchess County Village of Tivoli, the 26-year-old Kaatsbaan International Dance Center pioneered the concept of locating its dance-centered facilities and programs in the country, far away from the hustling crowds of the metropolitan dance hubs.
ADI was established about ten years ago in Rockville, first as a dance school and more recently as a haven for contemporary dance choreographers: a place where they could develop new works before presenting them in New York or nearby Washington. ADI was successful, according to Julianna Evans, the organization’s spokesperson; but the costs of that success were becoming increasingly prohibitive. “One day we all just sat down and looked at the future and determined we couldn’t keep pace. Washington-area real estate exists in a bubble that’s sort of impervious to what’s happening everywhere else,” she said.
Coupled with rising infrastructure costs (“Air conditioning!”), the organization’s directors decided that staying where they were would be a cost that would keep rising. “Let’s just say things are wildly expensive in places like DC and New York,” she said. Not only is it impossible for the organization to afford, the men and women to whom the ADI is dedicated face the same sorts of financial constraints. Even when a studio or performance space can be found or rented, there’s frequently little time to mount performances that have become increasingly complicated by technological needs.
Thus began ADI’s investigation into better, more affordable sites that might provide the time and space that choreographers would need, but that also could provide access to the metropolitan showplace that no one could afford to rent or lease. Enter Catskill.
The site – four buildings that were part of the former Dunn Builders’ Supply company – was pretty much a matter of love at first sight, Evans recalled. And it was mutual among village officials, for obvious reasons. The upshot is a project whose first phase will cost $4 million (including a $500,000 Empire State Development grant) at the four-building complex. The project will involve new construction as well, including a 5,000-square-foot flexible theater and housing for as many as 20 resident artists who participate in ADI’s Incubator program for developing new works.
Heather Bagshaw, Catskill village president, can barely contain her excitement while describing her hopes for ADI/Lumberyard. The village’s effort to attract what Bagshaw called a “transitioning” business began about three years ago, well before ADI began looking at the move last June.
The ADI/Lumberyard groundbreaking will be held on Saturday, May 7 at 62 Water Street from 12 noon to 3 p.m. The event is free and will include food trucks, a beer garden, raffle prizes, Broadway tickets and more. There will be entertainment for the kids, live music and tours of the site. The entire project is expected to open in May of 2018.