Easthampton doles out $3.25M to advance auditorium project in Old Town Hall

  • Renditions of the renovations that will happen in the second phase of the Old Town Hall in Easthampton are seen in the second-floor auditorium. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A photo rendition of some of the work that will be done in the second phase of the renovations of the Old Town Hall in Easthampton. The rendition shows one of the larger-cost items, the installation of an elevator. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jean-Pierre Pasche, a board member of City Space and a owner of Big Red Frame located in the first floor of the Old Town Hall, looks at a photo rendition of some of the work that will be done in the second phase of the renovations. One of the larger items is the instillation of a elevator which is in the drawing Pasche is pointing to. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jean-Pierre Pasche, a board member of City Space and an owner of the Big Red Frame art gallery on the first floor of the Old Town Hall in Easthampton, speaks about the large open space and the ability to have a moveable stage with flexible seating, which is part of the second phase of planned renovations. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The second phase of the renovations of the Old Town Hall in Easthampton is the performance and event space upstairs. The stage will get closed off and the large open space will include the flexibility for a moving stage stage with flexible seating . —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The second phase of the renovations to the Old Town Hall in Easthampton is the performance and event space upstairs. The stage will be closed off and the large open space will include the flexibility for a moveable stage. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2022 9:03:38 PM
Modified: 9/8/2022 8:59:50 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The City Council has unanimously awarded $3.25 million in Community Preservation Act money to help pay for the conversion of the Old Town Hall’s upper floor of into a performing arts auditorium, a project years in the making that officials believe will be an economic engine for the city.

The planned second-floor auditorium project is the largest single project to receive CPA funding, which Precinct 5 Councilor Dan Rist, who chairs the Community Preservation Act Committee, said has been a long time coming. Plans for the project — which is now pegged at nearly $7.5 million, up from $6.9 million, because of inflation — call for turning the 3,500-square-foot space into a fully accessible, flexible performance space that can seat 350 people. 

“The CPA committee not only recognizes the huge economic benefit that this project will give the city but also the expansion of the quality of life this project will bring. Easthampton residents will now enjoy the same quality performances that Northampton and Springfield now do,” Rist said at Wednesday’s council meeting.

The $3.25 million approved Wednesday includes a $2 million bonding request and $1.25 million directly from the Community Preservation Fund. Rist also noted that the CPA fund grown by 37% this year, which allowed the committee to add an extra $500,000 for the project.

The granting of bonding authority gives CitySpace — the nonprofit group that manages Old Town Hall and leases space there to Easthampton City Arts and Big Red Frame/Elusie Gallery — the leverage it needs to pursue the final grants for the project.

“CPA funds are always used to leverage grants in almost every project that it pursues,” Rist said. “The purchase of the bond will only take place when CitySpace has achieved the funds it needs, as it’s matched with the project to the satisfaction of the city treasurer and the auditor. There is no limit to how long the bonding authority will be available to the treasurer. In other words, once we pass the bonding, the treasurer and the auditor can bond whenever all of the conditions are met.”

CPA funding is also not at risk because this project will not go out to bid or begin construction until all funding and construction are in place, he said.

“We’re preserving the building, but also creating a place for people to join together and for artists throughout our region to come and incubate new ideas and to create,” said Burns Maxey, president of CitySpace.

She likened the funding process to a puzzle as CitySpace, which serves as a steward to the building, looks for multiple funding sources through the state, foundations, and corporate and individual donors. She said that the group had just received a letter notifying them of an additional $50,000 in state historic tax credits, which will go directly into maintaining the facility as a whole.

“All of these things will come together. Right now, we have over $3 million in asks out that we should see a return on that investment at the end of this year, and coming into the next year,” Maxey said.

“So what we’re really trying to do here is create a sustainable organization that will help the city maintain this building, and also create that sort of level playing field where there’s economic development for our city, but it’s also a place of affordability and accessibility for artists and our community to come together.”

The project got underway earlier this year with work on basic infrastructure, including the HVAC and electrical systems. That laid the groundwork for the more expansive renovation expected to start next year.

The first floor of the building opened late last year for arts and community events, rehearsal space for musicians and other artists, and non-public events.

In addition to the CPA committee’s approval, two members of the Development & Industrial Commission spoke in favor of the project, noting the economic benefits that the project could have for the city.

“We’ve said for years, can you imagine a performance space that might hold 250 or 300 people that lets out at seven o’clock or eight o’clock at night, and most people are in our city, attending our restaurants and businesses and what have you,” said Thomas Brown, a member of the commission. “So this could be a huge economic benefit for the city as a whole.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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