Grand plans for arts venue in Catskill come up short
When the Washington, D.C.-based "American Dance Institute" decided to relocate to New York, it settled on what once was a waterfront lumberyard, situated along the Catskill Creek on Water Street. But now the three-building performing arts and film campus is up for sale.
In September 2017, New York Senator Chuck Schumer stopped by Catskill to tour the fledgling LUMBERYARD Contemporary Performing Arts Center. Schumer predicted the venue would be a major hub for world-class theater.
"It's one of the most exciting projects that I have seen," Schume said. "Because the benefits that will accrue to Catskill, to Greene County and to the whole northern Hudson Valley will be terrific."
Lumberyard Executive and Artistic Director Adrienne Willis says when Institute representatives first visited the site, they knew it was "a perfect space because of the theater" and said partnering with Catskill would benefit both the town and the arts.
Schumer foresaw new restaurants, new housing and many other enterprises.
But just as Lumberyard shifted into full-scale operation the spring of 2019, the COVID pandemic was fast approaching.
"Well we opened officially with our first performance at the end of the summer of 2018," said Willis. "And we had a great first year, and then the pandemic hit. And when the pandemic hit, it was at a time when we had basically just opened. So we had just kind of got our sea legs with the new building and with our new community. And we were very fortunate in that we did have to close during the pandemic for, you know, a long period of time. But we were fortunate that the space was actually perfect for what other industries needed, particularly film and TV. So we were able to still continue to stay afloat, thanks to a lot of film and television, which was also really good for the community of Catskill to have all that film in the area."
LUMBERYARD was obtained for $1.2 million and renovated for an undisclosed cost. Today the asking price is $11.5 million. Although assets and revenues had plummeted, and despite Schumer's pledge of support, Willis says the decision to sell the center was a difficult one.
She added the non-profit luckily had other irons in the fire, including development of social impact programs like "Seats on the Spectrum," an effort to increase neurodiversity within performing arts audiences, with a focus on autistic audience members, which generated a lot of interest and attracted the bulk of philanthropic donations to the organization.
"We had seen really positive changes in Catskill after we had opened and our investment had attracted other investments, and it was doing really well," Willis said. "But we never expected the market to do as well as it did post pandemic, and there were at the time, and I think it's still true, the Hudson Valley was the hottest real estate market in the country. So we you know, we have our main building, and then we have our waterfront property, which we haven't done anything with the added weight was purchased as a down the line project, which we were getting plenty of unsolicited calls to purchase that property from us. And given all the changes in the field, and how the space had to be used differently now in this COVID world that we're in, and our new programs, it just seemed like the fiscally responsible thing for us to do was to sell the property."
Greene County Chamber of Commerce President and Executive Director Pamela Geskie says there's always concern when a business leaves.
"It does affect the local economy and the local community," said Geskie. "And one of the things that they did is they brought in a lot of tourists, they brought in a lot of people from outside the area, and locally as well. And, you know, those people that, you know, went to LUMBERYARD they would also come in and shop around Catskill and the surrounding community. We value them as a local business and as a member of the chamber and we're really sad to see them go."
Although the Dance Institute's artistic mission has shifted, Willis is hopeful that whoever buys the space will keep performing arts at the site, since so much time and effort was devoted to building a place particularly suited for that purpose.
"There's a lot of people who are excited that there's a property like this on the market, and that there's a lot of opportunity for the waterfront. And it's an exciting next phase for Catskill. It'll be interesting to see who comes in next. And I think there's a lot of potential and opportunity and I think it'll be a really great next chapter for Catskill," Willis said.