Last Tuesday, the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) is hosted a “Grand Reopening” event, following more than six months of major construction work. This wound up the third and final phase of a process that began in 2007 to renovate the 1,500-seat theater, which originally opened in 1927 as the Broadway Theatre and was rescued from threatened demolition in the 1970s by a successful community campaign to have it added to the National Register of Historic Properties.
According to Bardavon executive director Chris Silva, the most recent work undertaken on the Kingston performing arts hub comprises “replacement of our HVAC system, significant restroom expansion, major roof drainage and electrical work, plus brick and mortar repair. When complete, it will ensure that rain will no longer drip on Yo-Yo Ma’s head, the lights won’t go out on Natalie Merchant in the middle of her concert and the heat won’t fail as 1,500 kids sit down for The Nutcracker! Plus, the theatre will be open all year round, bringing at least 10,000 more people into Midtown Kingston each year.”
As opposed to earlier renovation stages that emphasized preservation of the theater’s historic elements, audience comfort and a higher-quality viewing experience seem to be the focal points of these more recent changes. In response to a bit of prodding, Silva elaborated: “The renovations were all about electrical upgrades so we could handle the new HVAC and all production elements for shows); HVAC so we can run year-round without worrying about it being too hot, too cold, too stuffy; drainage and bricks and mortar; and of course, the major addition of restrooms on the first floor, going from one unisex bathroom with three toilets and one sink to two restrooms (men’s and women’s) for a total of 13 WCs (toilets and urinals) and eight sinks.”
Some of the 1927 architectural elements are getting “a major cleanup and repainting,” Silva adds, and the lobby’s two bars will get improved access plus new ice machines. New administrative space is also being added behind the scenes. “But really, the main thing people will actually see are the new restrooms, though they will also notice a very cleaned-up façade on Broadway, and of course they will feel the warmth in the winter and the cool in the summer. Ironically, the restrooms represent less than 15 percent of the $5.4 million cost of the project; the HVAC and electrical work were the big-money items.”
So where did all those big bucks come from? “This project was made possible with a Bardavon cash equity contribution of approximately $3 million raised from New York State, the Dyson Foundation, Central Hudson, our Board of Directors, individual donors, foundations and corporate gifts. Another $2.2 million comes from a contribution UPAC, LLC will receive from its investment partner, a subsidiary of TD Bank,” according to Silva.
Translation: UPAC as we know it – operated on a not-for-profit basis – has been transformed into a for-profit enterprise, 99 percent owned by a financial institution with an interest, both corporate and philanthropic, in bolstering the livability of economically stressed communities. “TD operates in 15 states and has a history of supporting developments like this in seriously depressed neighborhoods. They did a similar deal this year with the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory,” Silva explains.
Since UPAC has long been the “anchor business” of the post-IBM-era revitalization of Midtown Kingston – expressed most recently in the City’s official designation of a Midtown Arts District with special development incentives designed to lure arts-related businesses to the neighborhood – this new public/private partnership has met with enthusiastic support from municipal, county and state officials. UPAC’s status as a building of historic significance qualifies its transfer of ownership for Federal and State Historic Tax Credits; and the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (IDA), mindful of UPAC’s positive impacts on restaurants and other nearby businesses, conferred its blessing in the form of eight years’ worth of 100 percent exemption from county, city and Kingston Consolidated School District property taxes.
“The UPAC property has never been on the tax rolls since the 1970s, when it became a nonprofit. [The] IDA deal merely continues that exemption during TD’s ownership,” Silva says. “In fact, the City Council, County Legislature, School Board and IDA Board all voted unanimously to continue the tax exemption.”
What happens when the tax credits expire? Does TD Bank actually begin paying taxes? Or will UPAC become a not-for-profit arts organization once again? Silva isn’t prepared to speculate about such questions at this point. “TD’s ownership will last at least through the six-year tax credit compliance period, which ends in 2023. After that, TD Bank has the option to transfer the property back to us,” he says.
In the meantime, audiences can expect no major changes in the kind of programming that they have come to expect at UPAC. Bookings will continue to be made under the aegis of “Bardavon Presents at UPAC.” According to Silva, “TD Bank has nothing to do with running the building. They are the 99 percent owner, not the operator. There will be no change in operations, programming et cetera.”
The Ulster Ballet Company’s annual production of A Christmas Carol inaugurates the 2017/18 season in the freshly renovated space this Friday evening, December 1 at 7 p.m., with additional shows on Saturday and Sunday. The Catskill Ballet Theatre returns with The Nutcracker the following weekend, and Melissa Etheridge kicks off the winter series of musical performances on December 16. For tickets and more info, visit www.bardavon.org.