Susan Rosko Fogarty, executive director of the Palace Theatre, said major renovations to the theater are a critical piece to transforming downtown Albany, New York, into a place where people want to live and businesses want to grow.
"Even though we’re enjoying a reasonable rate of unemployment in the northeast, you talk to business leaders and there’s still a mismatch in the skillset," Fogarty said. "The folks people are trying to attract to this area are still not always coming here. And then you go to the intangible, how many businesses are not coming here that we don’t even know about because we don’t have enough to offer."
Plans for $65 million in renovations to the Palace Theatre were first announced in 2016, and can begin more vigorously now that Palace Performing Arts Center Inc., the nonprofit that runs the theater, has finalized its purchase of the property from the city.
The Palace Performing Arts Center Inc. is investing in structural repairs, and will start raising $30 million to fund the first phase of construction at the theater. Phase one includes restoration and expansion of the backstage area and stage, and building a classroom and rehearsal space.
"The project timeline involves potentially breaking ground next summer,"
Fogarty said. "That’s to be determined. Can we raise the funds, can we get a good project timeline? We also have to be mindful we have to go dark for a period of time. How do we continue to program in other venues, how to minimize our dark time? There’s a lot of things to consider."
The money to support the project will come from grants, community donations and business donations, said Fogarty, who started as executive director in November.
The Palace recently received a $2.5 million grant for the project from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Regional Economic Development Council awards. It was billed as a priority project for the Capital Region, as a way to boost talent attraction, and make our downtowns a better place to live, work and play.
Fogarty sees the Palace Theatre renovations as an important piece of revitalizing the neighborhood surrounding the theater. She envisions what could be an arts block between the Palace Theatre and the building at 251 N. Pearl St. that the Capital Repertory Theatre recently bought to use as a production center and eventually the theater.
"We see it as a really transformational project, not just for the Palace, but for downtown Albany," Fogarty said.
The Palace Theatre brings in 150,000 attendees each year to see performers such as comedians, musicians and the Albany Symphony Orchestra. It employs more than 100 workers downtown, including 25 who work there full-time.
Fogarty was hired last year as executive director of the Palace Theatre to lead the theater in its expansion. Fogarty was most recently chief strategy officer of the Capital District YMCA, and before that was a senior vice president and senior relationship manager for Key Private Bank.
She has 17 years of experience in the music industry, working for SonyBMG, RCA and Richard Branson's V2 Records. During those years she worked with Clive Davis, Dave Matthews Band and Sarah McLachlan.
Fogarty replaced Holly Brown, who worked to turn around the theater's finances and is now leading the Cohoes Music Hall.
As Fogarty adjusts to her role as executive director, her priorities are supporting her staff in this transition, increasing programming, including a new summer concert series, and the $30 million phase one project.
"Within the project, the priorities are enhanced customer experience, so renovating this beautiful theater to make it a better customer experience," Fogarty said. "Hopefully adding things like a lounge, an elevator so it's more accessible, so when people come to see all these great acts that they love, they’ll have a better experience."