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Palace Theatre Transfer Critical To Expansion Plan

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. The building fell on hard times but interested parties kept it from the wrecking ball, restoring it and cementing its place as a city landmark. A deal in the works critical to the Palace's future is close to being finalized.

In July, the not-for-profit corporation that operates the Palace presented its vision for a $65 million renovation and expansion project.

The ambitious venture entailed expanding the theater's footprint along North Pearl Street, adding 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 would expand the lobby and enhance the current stage, backstage area and box office.

At the time, Palace executive director Holly Brown said the corporation was applying for state funding. That fell though, as apparently did some "exploratory conversations" with Capital Repertory, based nearby on Pearl Street.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy spoke Thursday. "I have to tell ya, I felt like we got a punch in the stomach when the Economic Regional Council came out and they didn't even recognize this as a priority project."

And, months later, the Albany Common Council has yet to approve a transfer of ownership of the Palace from the city to the Palace Performing Arts Center Inc.

That transfer is vital to a Project Labor Agreement, the focus of a Thursday afternoon press conference at the Palace.  Mayor Kathy Sheehan felt that Palace officials were caught off guard  by the requirements for the city disposing of the property without going out to bid, including an appraisal.  "That appraisal, by definition, you know really, and very rightfully so, the Palace said, 'Well, we wanna do a deeper engineering study.' Our own internal engineering study that was just done with our internal resources, had identified about $4 million in liability here.  Their engineering study shows about $4.2 million in liability, and that doesn't include asbestos."

Jeff Stark, business representative with painter’s local union 201, says the PLA will give special consideration to local workers. "And it will be able to meet all the MBE participation and utilization goals set forth by our governor. All we need now is to get our leaders together and come up with a plan to transfer this as soon as possible."

Sheehan adds that once the building is in the Palace's hands, they take all responsibility for it. The Times Union reports the Palace has made a $750,000 purchase offer, where it would make annual payments of $25,000 for a 30-year term. Back in July the Palace proposed buying the building for a dollar.  "So that's why it's good for taxpayers as well. So you know that's why when people say, 'Well you sell it for a dollar,' well actually, we got out of a $5 million liability by transferring the building. But we were also looking for some ongoing revenue, and their proposal addresses that. We wanted to be able to have some operating revenue every year that would come into the city, as opposed to one lump sum purchase price. In many ways municipalities spreading it out over time gives us the certainty of ongoing income, as opposed to an up-front payment, which we then usually spend in one year."

County Exec McCoy is confident that the Project Labor Agreement will expedite the plan.2  "I believe we can have a shovel in the ground by October. Imagine that! A ribbon-cutting in September, shovel in the ground, and this project can move forward. That's what I look forward to. Movin' the project forward. Get past the red tape. Government should get out of the way. Make this happen."

Mayor Sheehan says a meeting between the Palace leadership and three city council leaders who have been skeptical about project was canceled because of the press conference.

Previous projections indicated theater improvements will impact downtown to the tune of $125 million, and create over 200 new jobs.

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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