ALBANY — Less than a week after the opening of the Albany Capital Center, ownership of the city’s most storied stage changed hands — the first big step required for the upgrades it needs to expand.
The Albany City Council approved the sale of the Palace Theatre to the Palace Performing Arts Center, Inc., the not-for-profit organization which operates it on Monday, March 6. The transition, from a municipally owned venue to privately owned, will secure additional funds for a $65 million expansion and renovation project.
The Palace’s expansion project is billed as a means of revitalizing its surrounding neighborhood. Once completed, its proposed to enhance traffic to area restaurants and provide a bridge to downtown’s entertainment district from the city’s burgeoning Warehouse District. PPAC estimates there will be an “on-going indirect” annual impact of $10 million on local businesses.
“The Palace Performing Arts Center is clearly an important driver of the local economy as proven through the theatre’s exceptional growth under the leadership of Holly Brown and her partners at Park Playhouse and Albany Symphony,” Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said in January, when PPAC announced it had secured a labor agreement for the expansion project. “The exciting project will certainly spur additional downtown development, and create an even more dynamic venue for arts and entertainment in the heart of downtown Albany.”
According to PPAC, the Palace has doubled the number of featured events at the 86-year old theatre in the past five years, from 77 events in 2009-10 to 170 in 2015-16. The Palace is also home of the Park Playhouse, which uses the building space for offices and classes for the community.
Palace Executive Director Holly Brown and PPAC Chairman Alan Goldberg said they anticipate the proposed expansion to occur in different phases. The first of which will include restoration and expansion of the theatre’s stage and backstage areas, and creation of classroom and rehearsal space. Additional elements of the project includes a new 600-seat theatre, expanded lobby and box offices, a video post-production studio, the addition of a loading dock and rehearsal space.
In preparation for the expansion, the Palace has spent more than $750,000 to purchase properties along North Pearl Street, and to fund appraisals and various studies to investigate further steps.
The renovation plans rival those implemented by Schenectady’s Proctors Theatre over the years. Proctors Theatre has about 2600 seats to the Palace’s approximate 2800.
The city sold the theatre for $750,000, the aggregate value to be paid over the next 30 years. The city first purchased the property for $90,000 shortly after its doors closed in September 1969.
Over the theatre’s eight decades of operations, it has features iconic figures of both the arts and pop culture. Bob Hope, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and Jerry Seinfeld have all taken to the Palace’s stage. The Palace is also the home of the Grammy Award winning Albany Symphony Orchestra.
The sale of the theatre did receive some opposition from members of the Albany Common Council, who expressed concern the city was not receiving a fair price. Though the PPAC reportedly presented its purchase proposal based on two, separate assessments, Councilmember Frank Commisso, Jr. took to social media hours before the 12-3 vote last Monday.
“As Mayor Sheehan and her allies on the Albany Common Council are preparing to give away the Palace Theater [sic.], an inconvenient data point is presented,” stated Commisso, attaching an Albany Business Review article reporting the sale of $497,000 sale of the 13,500-square foot eba Dance Theatre on Albany’s Lark Street and Hudson Avenue. Late last week, Commisso announced he will run for Albany Mayor.