SARATOGA SPRINGS – A scatter of workers amble through the vintage chambers of Universal Preservation Hall, exploring the possibilities. Design plans sprawl across tabletops beneath stained-glass windows and free-standing easels boast colorful images of what will be. Soon, the heavy lifting will begin.
When the $8.7 million restoration of UPH is complete, in late 2019, the 19th century building will provide Saratoga Springs with something it has sorely been missing: a mid-range capacity venue with state-of-the-art sound, open year-round and expected to stage more than 200 events.
“It’s going to be a huge performance venue,” says Teddy Foster, whose association with UPH goes back more than a decade - from board member to president to its current campaign director.
“We’re going to be a huge music room, that’s how it’s being designed. We anticipate doing some Broadway cabaret and some live theater; we will be a place of collaboration for SPAC, for Caffe Lena, for people from the community, you name it,” Foster says, standing in the middle of a vacant 20-foot by 24-foot space on the main floor where the staging area for the 700-seat theater-in-the round venue will be constructed.
Tiered seating will be installed at the far end of the main hall – where the current stage sits – and at the opposite end, the balcony will be extended and fitted with seats that descend to the main floor. It will be handicap accessible with an elevator that navigates between floors, and a glass atrium will serve as the new entry way, off Washington Street, in “a super cool alleyway inviting people to come in,” Foster explains.
Event booking will be handled by Proctors, with whom UPH struck an alliance in 2012, and whose event management has included staging everything from major Broadway shows and cutting-edge film festivals to snagging pop music acts on national tours. Proctors’ stated mission: To be a catalyst - through arts and community leadership - for excellence in education, sustainable economic development and rich civic engagement to enhance the quality of life in the greater Capital Region.
Approximately 100 local jobs will be employed during the construction phase, which begins in earnest sometime between May and July. After the $8.7 million project is completed – expected to be in late 2019 - and the venue re-opens for business, it is anticipated UPH will bring approximately 65,000 visitors to the Spa City each year. “We will fill the hotel rooms and the restaurants during the off-the shoulder season,” Foster says. UPH also plans to hire six full-time employees and a number more on a part-time basis.
Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the venue will be awarded $750,000 to help redevelop the hall into a performing arts center. UPH represents Saratoga Springs’ sole recipient of the Restore New York Communities Initiative – which awards funding for projects that will reinvigorate downtowns and generate new economic opportunity in communities.
The Washington Street venue, which is a non-profit community performing arts center, is also entering into an energized public fundraising phase. The goal is to raise $5.5 million. “We’ve raised most of it,” Foster says. There is just under $1 million to go to reach that goal.
“I’m a huge music lover and I would love to see music of all kinds in that room,” says Foster. “You know this was built as a place where people could come together for all different kinds of things. That’s how we’ve kept it alive all these years. And that’s really what I want to have here: a place that all Saratogians can experience.“