Saugerties theater group plans arts and science center at mill ruins

A scene from an Arm-of-the-Sea production

With the help of a grant from the Hudson Valley Estuary Fund, the local theater group Arm of the Sea is hoping to turn the ruins of the Sheffield paper mill on the bank of the Esopus Creek adjacent to Tina Chorvas Park into a science and arts center.

Patrick Wadden, co-director of the theatre troupe, told the village of Saugerties planning board at a recent meeting that grant funding would help pay for a master plan to convert about 1.5 acres currently owned by the Sloop Clearwater into a workshop, performance space and science educational center.

The village government and Arm of the Sea have received about $300,000 in funds from Community Rising, state storm abatement money intended to repair damage caused by three major storms that struck the Hudson Valley a number of years ago.


State money will be used to replace the bulkhead along the Esopus Creek at Tina Chorvas Park and along the frontage owned by the Clearwater organization. It will fence in the ruins of the paper mill, and pay for the construction of an access road from The Mill senior-housing parking lot through Tina Chorvas Park and into the Clearwater property. This work is slated to start this summer and be done by the fall.

Once the old ruins are fenced in, Wadden said, Clearwater would turn over ownership of the 1.5 acres to Arm of the Sea. The theater group, which puts on visual story-telling environmental education programs through the use of large puppets, would then begin raising funds to construct its science and arts center.

The paper mill has been abandoned and falling into ruins “for more than 40 years,” Wadden said, “and we want to transform it from a dangerous liability to a community asset.”

The Esopus was the front door to Saugerties, Wadden said. He hoped the science and arts center would be a way to welcome locals and visitors to Saugerties.

Very preliminary plans call for the Arm of the Sea organization to stabilize an old coal bin at the ruins and build a deck on it. A multi-use building and a performance pavilion that would seat 90 would be built on the deck. There would also be a science lab, bathrooms, studios, a kitchen and office space.

The building would be “ecologically sound and really beautiful,” Wadden promised.

The center would be open from April to November, five days a week during the summer months, on weekends and for special events during the spring and fall.

“And now for the 900-pound gorilla in the room: the ruins,” Wadden said. He said most of the ruins would be demolished and removed. “We’d have to raise money to do this.”

Right now, it’s just a plan. The first step is to gather information as to how to proceed with the village government, and what permits and approvals will be needed. Wadden said a meeting would be scheduled with village code enforcement officer Eyal Saad.

Board members called the proposal “interesting.” One even found it “fascinating.” But Arm of the Sea will need to develop its plans further.

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