Holyoke pitching in $2M for Victory Theatre redevelopment

By Chad Cain

Managing Editor

Published: 12-23-2022 4:43 PM

HOLYOKE — The ambitious, $61 million effort to reopen the Broadway-style Victory Theatre moved $2 million closer to becoming reality this week after the city made a significant commitment of American Rescue Plan Act money for the project in its downtown.

In announcing the city’s commitment on Thursday, Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia said the project is in the “ninth inning” given the unprecendented availability of federal recovery funds, and declared that the return of the theater will be “epic.”

“The time to wrap this thing up is now,” Garcia said in a statement. “Because there’s not going to be a better time. Or another time. The campaign is at a critical stage. For the first time in a long time, we can see the finish line. Be we have to cross it.”

The 1,600-seat facility, which opened in 1920, initially presented theater, other live shows and movies before becoming a full-time movie house in the early 1930s. It closed in 1979, and the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts, or MIFA, bought the rundown property in 2009. The nonprofit, which presents arts events in different locales in the region, has been leading the effort to preserve, expand and transform the historic theater.

MIFA’s plan is not just to restore the long-vacant theater, but to make it the centerpiece of an arts and community center that can be a linchpin for supporting existing Holyoke businesses and attracting new ones, as well as creating new jobs and increasing tourism to the area.

“MIFA is grateful to Mayor Garcia for having the vision to see how the Victory Theatre can be a transformative part of Holyoke’s recovery from the pandemic and vision for a bright future,” said Donald T. Sanders, MIFA’s executive artistic director.

Sanders believes that once complete, the Victory will help with urban revitalization, lead to economic development and create civic pride. MIFA estimates the reopened theater will draw more than 600,000 visitors and generate more than $6 million a year in direct and audience spending, and lead to numerous non-monetary benefits, including educational enrichment and enhanced community engagement.

The theater would be the only venue in western Massachusetts able to host large-scale Broadway shows and other theater productions, Sanders has said in the past.

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The project has been awarded millions in state and federal tax credits. In addition, state Rep. Patricia Duffy, D-Holyoke, and state Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, secured $1.05 million in ARPA funding. And a capital campaign with a goal of $10 million is on target, MIFA says.

Other efforts to help move the project ahead including hiring theater expert Susan Palmer, CEO of Palmer Westport Group, to lead a feasiblity planning study and to guide the ongoing capital campaign and to act as project management.

Additionally, the mayor has assembled three so-called “  strike teams” to lead a community fundraising campaign; to launch entrepreneurial efforts to support entrepreneurs, businesses and building owners who will benefit from the opportunities in the vicinity of the theater when it opens; and to oversee preconstruction and construction phases of the restoration of the Victory building and the addition of an annex.