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Albany Common Council Votes To Sell Palace Theatre

WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

By a 12-3 vote, the Albany Common Council approved a resolution this week to sell downtown’s Palace Theatre.

The deal to transfer ownership of the landmark theater, which opened its doors in 1931, has been in the works for some time. Mayor Kathy Sheehan characterizes the council vote as the next step in an exciting project for the city, and good news for taxpayers.   "The Palace Theatre represents a pretty significant liability to the city. We right now are responsible for all repairs to that building and at least $4.2 million in repairs have been identified that need to be taken over the next year to 18 months. So, in addition to the Palace board taking over responsibility for those repairs, we'll also be paid $25,000 a year over a period time for a total purchase price for the building of $750,000."

Mayoral candidate Frank Commisso and fellow council members Mark Robinson and Judd Krasher voted against the sale. Krasher says he looked at the transfer through a financial lens of fairness, with his constituents in mind. " $750,000 is very different when you're getting it over 30 years and something that the mayor's office and council members who voted in favor of this deal, I guess didn't either understand it or didn't want to hear and that's the discounting of money, so when you take that into account even if you very conservative estimates, discounted estimates, you're looking at $700,000 over 30 years equating to something to see if you're in less than $600,000. The $600,000 number is important because that's the lowest appraisal that the Palace was able to come up with for the building. So on the financial end it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. On the fairness end, city taxpayers own that building. And we know that there is from the Palace's own appraisals, it did two of them, one was appraised the building at $600,000 and the other one about $1.1 million."

Krasher adds he had no problem selling the theater as long as it’s through a fair deal.  Another Albany mayoral candidate, Dan Plaat of the Green Party, notes that a contract for sale has to be drafted and signed, and there will be a guarantee that Albany residents will be hired to work at the Palace.   "There is a kind of an assurance that a 'community benefit' agreement will be in, that the council has some kind of reviewing power, and that was put into ordinance very recently."

Last summer, the Palace Performing Arts Center, the not-for-profit corporation that operates the theater, presented its vision for a $65 million, seven-year renovation and expansion project. Sheehan sees the sale as a pathway to realizing that vision.B "This is a really exciting project, and I know that in order for the Palace to be able to go the next level and bring this project to fruition, they need to have control of that building. And I've been concerned about that building since before I became mayor."

A contract of sale must now be drafted and signed. The council will review the sale agreement and hear public comment at a later date. Officials say renovations are expected to begin in 2018.

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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