By Rick Moriarty, The Post-Standard (Article published May 7, 2017)
The loss of a major tenant at the City Center project in downtown Syracuse is not stopping the Redhouse from developing part of the former Sibley’s Department Store into an arts center.
Work is underway on future home of the Redhouse Arts Center. Workers are cutting a hole in a portion of the building’s attached 800-car garage to make room for the rigging for the largest of the arts center’s two performance stages.
Samara Hannah, Executive Director, of the Redhouse, said the first show at the new arts center is scheduled for March 2018 during a “soft” opening of the facility. A formal ribbon-cutting will take place in late May or early June of 2018, she said.
Aspen Dental Management Inc. said Monday it has withdrawn from a deal to move its 600-worker headquarters from DeWitt to the City Center project at the former department store at 400 S. Salina St. Aspen’s withdrawal was a major blow to the project, but the Redhouse, a minority partner in City Center, is moving forward with its plans to develop the former store’s warehouse section into an arts center. “We’ve been working on this from Day 1 and we are not stopping,” Hannah said while giving reporters a tour of the work taking place in the building.
The arts center is to include a flexible-space theater with seating for up to 400, a smaller theater with seating up to125, rehearsal rooms and classrooms. Plans to also build a movie theater as part of the project have been put on hold so the organization can focus on its main interest, the performing arts she said.
The arts center is being built in a section of the garage that served as the department store’s warehouse. The former warehouse has 18-foot ceilings, but a hole is being cut in a portion of the ceiling to allow for the 25-foot height required for stage rigging. The garage itself is undergoing renovations to serve patrons of the arts center and customers and commercial tenants at the remaining portion of the City Center project.
With Aspen Dental Management no longer part of the project, it remains to be seen who those tenants will be. Hayner Hoyt Construction Co. took over the entire project from its original developer, Robert Doucette, in February. Hannah said a wine vendor will be one tenant of the City Center and will be selling wine to the arts center’s patrons during shows.
Redhouse currently operates a small theater in Armory Square. The organization’s investment in the City Center project is $10 million – $8 million for construction and $2 million for an ownership stake in the building. The state is giving the organization a $1.3 million grant for the arts center. The rest of the arts center project is being funded by donations from individuals and charitable foundations. Redhouse employs 50 full-time workers and 10 to 60 part-time employees, Hannah said.
Sibley’s closed its department store in January 1989. The building was used for numerous years afterward for a call center operation and as offices but has been vacant for the past several years.