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Construction Underway At Universal Preservation Hall

Construction work is underway and a multi-million dollar fundraising goal is nearing completion for a long-awaited music and arts space in Saratoga Springs.

On the front steps of a Victorian Gothic church building on Washington Street in Saratoga Springs, Teddy Foster announced to an assembled crowd that the transformation of Universal Preservation Hall was underway, in keeping with a pledge made more than a decade ago.

“We’re making good on a promise we made in 2003. That’s when we became a nonprofit and that’s when we said we would bring a year-long cultural center to downtown Saratoga Springs. I know it’s taken a little bit of time but…good things come to those who wait,” said Foster.

Foster, Campaign Director at UPH, informed the crowd that construction is slated to be completed in spring 2020.

The $9.4 million project that includes everything from a new stage and seating to the installation of a new entrance and elevator has been supported by a number of partners over the last decade-and-a-half.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly, who founded the Saratoga Children’s Theatre, called UPH a gem that will boost tourism when finished.

“UPH is an important ongoing revitalization of Saratoga Springs. Socially, economically, and artistically. Artistically is the key word there. Artistically. We are a creative community,” said Kelly.

Inside the large wooden doors, work is ongoing, overseen by local builder Sonny Bonacio.

“Yeah what we’re doing right now, if you look behind me, that’s the lobby. A secondary balcony, and we’re resturucturing the balcony, which is what they’re cutting now. The staging is getting reframed. There’s a lot of roof structure, which you can’t see…”

There’s work being done on the building’s chapels, foundation excavation, with electrical and ventilation work needed as well. Everything but the bricks themselves.

“We’re in it, we’re fully in it now,” said Bonacio.

Democratic state Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, who represents Saratoga Springs, previously served as executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation. She was in this very building years ago when the project was in its infancy.

“I think it was the fall of 2003, I was part of a crew of volunteers from the Preservation Foundation that came in to rip up all the old dirty, horrible carpeting and just started the process of cleaning the space out so it could be shored up and made stable. So it’s been a long process and a lot of people in the community have contributed in a variety of ways to this,” said Woerner.

Programming at UPH is being overseen by Proctors, which also operates its landmark theater in Schenectady and Capital Rep, a production theater in Albany.

Proctors CEO Philip Morris said all of the organization’s facilities offer something different. 

“And here at UPH, the ability for fabulous music in a round setting, a theatre in the round, which doesn’t exist in the region, will complement all of that beautifully. And our education programs will be in these three cities, in these three buildings. So we’re pretty excited about creating a package of activities that will be coordinated, that will be able to market to one another’s audiences, and help to cross lines. And that’s really the goal,” said Morris. 

A fundraising campaign begun two years ago is nearing its end. Of the initial $5.5 million goal, about $300,000 remains.To jumpstart the final leg of the campaign, the Saratoga County Propserity Partnership presented UPH with a $26,250 oversized check.

Teddy Foster is excited.

“So thrilled I can’t even tell you, I feel like I’m giving birth!” said Foster.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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