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Restored Cohoes Music Hall Faces Uncertain Future

Cohoes Music Hall
Lucas Willard
Cohoes Music Hall

Four years after reopening, the Cohoes Music Hall is in a state of flux.
Opened in 1874, the Cohoes Music Hall featured luminaries like Buffalo Bill Cody, John Philip Sousa and Colonel Tom Thumb. In 1905, the National Bank of Cohoes took over ownership of the building and closed the Music Hall.

In 1969, the city purchased the building for $1. After a full renovation, the hall was restored and reopened in 1974. A 2016 makeover was capped with a grand reopening as officials celebrated a partnership with Albany's Palace Theatre.

Democratic Mayor Bill Keeler says the coronavirus pandemic magnified the scale of the Music Hall's monetary losses.

"I love the Cohoes Music Hall. I've patronized it since I was in grade school. I see it as a Cohoes landmark, and I believe that government has a role in subsidizing art. What I'm doing is saving the Music Hall by taking necessary action in the short term to get it on solid financial footing so its sustainable in the long term."

On April 28th, the Common Council unanimously approved Keeler’s proposal to cancel the contracts for Park Playhouse, the organization that produces programming both for the Cohoes Music Hall and Canal Square Park, and for the Music Hall Arts Alliance, which had managed the Cohoes Music Hall.

Third ward councilor Chris Briggs says the Music Hall's Executive Director Holly Brown is also being let go. "You know with the pandemic and it being closed, financially it becomes an enormous burden to the city. And so what we tried to do is just put Holly on notice, 90-day notice for cancellation of contract."

Briggs emphasizes the city was "not displeased" with Brown, who did not respond to a request for comment. Keeler says the cuts will save the city upwards of $200,000 a year. "...and I fully expect a new contract in place by August, and that will provide significant savings to taxpayers and will put the Music Hall on a sustainable footing going forward, under which it's funded by foundations, philanthropy, and to a much smaller degree by city tax dollars."

Cohoes issued a “Request for Proposals” from "qualified entities" – due May 21, 2020 – to take over management of the venue.

The city has canceled its “Rock the Block” summer music series, 150th anniversary spring and summer events, and postponed May’s Restaurant Week.

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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