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Ex-Palace Theater Manager To Manage Independent Cohoes Music Hall

Former Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse

Changes are coming to the recently reopened Cohoes Music Hall.

The Cohoes Music Hall appears to be heading in the direction of creative independence. Step one begins with extricating the Hall from a management agreement with Albany's Palace Theatre. Mayor Shawn Morse:   "The city of Cohoes is and will always be grateful for the Palace Theatre and the opportunities they provided us as we tried to bring our music hall back to life."

The two became partners in early 2016 with the Palace set to manage the venue for three years, announcing an ambitious schedule to host 60 events in its first year at the 400-seat hall, with plans to double that number after that. The Hall announced a "grand re-opening" of the venue that dates to 1874.

But there has been a dramatic change of plans. Palace Executive Director Holly Brown, hired by the Palace in 2011, was not aware that theatre had conducted a search for someone to replace her, after hearing she was considering other opportunities. She stepped down at the end of October.   "You know she booked the shows and she was making our facility come back to life, and, when things are going well, why would you ever wanna change from the person that's already made it so successful."

Morse says he didn't think twice about offering Brown, credited with having turned the Palace's financial situation around, the opportunity to manage the Cohoes Music Hall, effective January 1st.

Morse says an agreement in principle was reached, which requires approval of the city council. But 6th Ward Councilmember Randy Koniowka  says neither he nor his fellow representatives have seen any documents. The board is scheduled to meet November 28th. He's not keen on turn of events so far.   "The mayor is saying that 'we have to have Miss Brown, Miss Brown is the best around,' and that could very well be. I don't know her. I hear her reputation is pretty good, but I think we're left now with a situation where 'What is this gonna cost us?’"

Morse is convinced Brown will make the hall “the best in the country.” Brown could not be reached for comment. Cohoes' director of economic and community development Michael Jacobson tells the Times Union Holly Brown will not be a city employee, and she'll be tasked with forming a company the Palace will transfer Hall management to. Koniowka has his doubts.   "I support the Music Hall a thousand percent, but we have to create a system over there, where they can go out, raise the money, operate the muisc hall. That building needs a million dollars of improvement at least, and I don't know where that money's gonna come from. But you gotta fundraise. You have to have a board. You have to have people over there dedicated to the Music Hall. The city shouldn't be in show business. We need to be paving roads, we need to be improving our infrastructure, lowering taxes."

The Cohoes Music Hall hosted more than 120 events during the first year of its agreement with the Palace. The Palace Theatre did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Cohoes Music Hall.

Mayor Morse said the two facilities are likely to continue their relationship in some manner.

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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