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A Closer Look At The $65M Palace Theatre Expansion Plan

Composite photo by Dave Lucas

Since Albany’s Palace Theatre opened in 1931, it has provided a wide array of cultural events and served as a hub for the creative community.  Last week, the Palace took center stage at its own press conference, where officials announced an ambitious project to revitalize the old movie house, with the intent to position the Palace as a gateway to downtown.  But there are a few loose ends.

The project entails building expanding theater's footprint along North Pearl Street, adding several new elements, including a 600-seat theater, creating a multi-faceted arts program accessible to the entire community, and establishing a state-of-the-art video post-production center. Renovations within the main theater will expand the lobby and enhance the current stage, backstage area and box office.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy cited projections indicating the improvements will impact downtown to the tune of $125 million, and create over 200 new jobs.

The dazzling details came under scrutiny of reporters at the theatre: where was the money coming from to fund the project? And what would it all mean for nearby theater company Capital Rep?

First, the money:  11th ward common council member Judd Krasher says it's very unclear how the Palace is going to fund the expansion, and what will happen with the property itself.  "So there's an ordinance before the council that is now before the planning committee, that will sell that property, the Palace Theatre to the actual Palace, Incorporated. The city currently owns the Palace Theatre and leases it to the Palace, and early indications that we received from the mayor's office and from council leadership is to sell that current property, the Palace Theatre, for a nominal amount, for something like a dollar, to the Palace Theatre. And there are a group of us on the council who have a very serious problem with the notion of selling a very valuable property for a nominal value. The city has pumped in a great deal of money with capital improvements into that facility, and it just doesn't make any market sense and is actually a disservice to the taxpayers if we were to move forward and sell the Palace for a nominal amount."

Krasher expects the planning commitee will be meeting within two weeks to discuss the property transfer. "The council has to give final signoff on the sale of property. It is city-owned property, as I mentioned, so the council has to authorize the sale of the property. Whatever is determined to be the final dollar amount, the council has to sign off on that."

The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At the announcement, Palace executive director Holly Brown explained timetables are being worked out and the planning continues.  "We are applying from funding now through the state, with an application that's due at the end of the month." 

Brown said she'd been holding exploratory conversations with Capital Repertory, based nearby on Pearl Street, which was the second item reporters scrutinzed, wondering if Cap Rep might be welcome to use the additional 600-seat theatre.     "Cap Rep is a huge asset to downtown Albany. I think all of us would be, I know I would be very upset if they had to leave this area, so anything we can do to support their efforts, we want to do that."

Proctor’s CEO Philip Morris says while they did talk about Cap Rep's physical needs, "a match wasn't made in heaven there."   "They were very attentive, they came back with some ideas, but we never heard back after those meetings. Cap Rep's needs are for something it can utilize 200 days a year, between rehearsal and performances, it's a pretty busy space, and 600 seats is substantively too large for what Cap Rep does."

Morris says Cap Rep is pressing on.   "Well, I have no idea why there's a hesitancy about the life of Cap Rep. When Proctor's took over management and in essence aligned ourselves, now, four years ago, there was risk of financial disaster. At this point all of Cap Rep's debts are paid and the year looks great. The current show Janis is doing terrific. Cap Rep is not at risk financially at all."

Morris notes Cap Rep is at some risk of having to move if the building it occupies is sold, but they keep examining all their options. He sees no threat to Cap Rep from the Palace, now or in the future.   "The Capital Region is kinda blessed with an abundance of performance venues and seats, all of which are presenters, not producers, Capital Rep being one of the few producers of art."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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