Group Plans to Purchase and Renovate Old Oneonta Theater
By the end of the year, Bob Brzozowski hopes, the newly revived Friends of the Oneonta Theater will have site control of the theater.
“We’ve seen places like Walton, Norwich, Bainbridge and Worcester re-open their theaters,” he said. “If small towns can do it, so can we.”
Brzozowski, Greater Oneonta Historical Society executive director, is one of three new board members of revived FOTOT. Elaine Bresee was elected president; Elizabeth Dunn, SUNY Oneonta Dean of Liberal Arts, secretary, and Brzozowski, treasurer. Ellen Pope, Otsego 2000 executive director, also joined the board.
The original Friends of the Oneonta Theatre formed in 2008, when the theater went up for sale.
When entrepreneur Tom Cormier bought it in 2009, FOTOT helped him with theater restoration. But they soon parted ways, and although the group became less and less active, it still maintained its not-for-profit status.
When the Oneonta Theater went up for sale in 2015, GOHS, in collaborate with FOTOT members and other interested people, won a $50,000 Technical Assistance grant a hired Duncan Webb, Webb Management, one of the country’s leading theater consultants, to do a feasibility plan.
Webb’s recommendations are available on the GOHS website.
“The theater has good bones, but there’s work to be done,” said Brzozowski. “It’s going to take some major renovation projects.”
$2 million could not only restore the theater to working order, but re-open the two balconies and expand the lobby, Brzozowski said.
“It would be a completely different building,” he said. “We could go in and uncover the original murals, we could do an exhibit on all of the people who performed there. There’s so much more we can do beyond just getting it open.”
Rather than forming a new not-for-profit to buy and restore the theater, Brzozowski and the remaining FOTOT members revived the Friends organization.
“As we got closer and closer to what we wanted to do, we realized it was just easier that way,” he said.
The reformed FOTOT will work to update some of its rules and bylaws to make sure it is in compliance with newer New York State regulations. “The past members did a great job in setting things up, but there are a lot of other things that have changed at the state level,” he said.
At an organizational meeting Friday, Jan. 17, at GOHS, attendees voted to join the New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON), whose local office is managed by Andrew Marietta, the county representative.
“We also joined the League of Historic American Theaters,” Brzozowski said. “We weren’t part of that before.”
In the spring, Brzozowski hopes to launch a capital campaign, after the group determines how much they want to raise – and how people can get involved to help.
“One of the models we’re looking at is like the State Theater in Ithaca,” he said. “When people make a donation of a certain amount, they own a share of the theater, so it’s really a community-owned theater.”
And more than that, they hope to get support from other institutions, including SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College, and said a “shared booking agent” would go a long ways to strengthening ties to Foothills
“Wouldn’t it be great to have the Catskill Symphony Orchestra play in that beautiful theater?” he said. “We could open it up to the Glimmerglass Film Festival as an additional venue. It’s got great acoustics, and it’s a shame it’s not being used.”
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