ONEONTA _ A prospective buyer wants to acquire the historic Oneonta Theatre, possibly to operate it as an amusement center, officials said Thursday.
Next week, the city Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the proposal, which is being opposed by a local group scrambling to raise about $50,000 as a down payment on the property.
The possible loss of a building with national historic status spotlights the need for the city to adopt a landmarks ordinance, the president of the Greater Oneonta Historical Society said.
The Friends of the Oneonta Theatre will send letters seeking donations within the next week, said Patrice Macaluso, president of the group. Members have been working on figuring out how to gain support and raise money.
``We just can't avoid that this is the time that this has to happen,'' Macaluso said.
The factor that makes the theater restorable is that alterations haven't been made inside, she said.
The Oneonta Theatre at 47 Chestnut St. was built in 1897 and hosted vaudeville acts, movies and other performances. The property is listed on the state and national registers of historic places. Though it no longer shows first-run movies on a regular schedule, the theater presents musicians and other performers and periodically shows films.
Otsego County Real Property Tax Service records online said the property, owned by Terry Mattison, is assessed at $350,000 and was purchased in 2002 for $250,000.
Mattison said he had no comment Thursday.
``There is an offer to buy the property,'' Oneonta Mayor John Nader said Thursday.
A site plan will be reviewed at the Planning Commission meeting in City Hall at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nader said, and the commission will determine if a variance is needed for the proposed use.
Nader said he didn't know who the potential buyer is and hadn't seen the site plans, but he had heard the intended use was as an amusement venue with electronic games. Details of the site plans weren't available Thursday night, he said. Though the city Code Enforcement Office has determined a variance isn't needed, he said.
Patricia Roodhof, city code inspector, refused Thursday to speak with The Daily Star.
Macaluso said she thought between $50,000 and $60,000 would be needed to make a down payment on the Oneonta Theatre property and make arrangements for a mortgage. FOTOT, which started meeting in February 2008, gained nonprofit status last autumn and has about $2,000, she said. Letters will be sent within the week to seek contributions.
``Here's another example of a threat to a historic property,'' Bob Brzozowski, GOHS president, said Thursday.
GOHS morally supports the FOTOT efforts but cannot help financially, Brzozowski said. The group previously raised about $500 to help Mattison with restoration efforts, he said, and it could help FOTOT with other fundraisers.
Chairman: Foreclosure has been a possibility
Rumors abound about the fate of the Oneonta Theatre property, said Rob Robinson, chairman of the Oneonta Planning Commission. One idea was to split the property into the commercial storefronts and the theater, which is in the back, he said.
Robinson said he hadn't seen the meeting agenda, which was expected to be at the Oneonta City Clerk's Office today.
The Oneonta Theatre property has been close to foreclosure, but Wilber National Bank has held off to try keeping the preservation efforts alive, Robinson said.
``There's been a lot of paper-pushing and pencil-sharpening to make it work,'' Robinson said. ``You can't preserve it unless you get some money on the table.''
Douglas Gulotty, president and chief executive officer of Wilber Bank, didn't return a telephone call to his office Thursday afternoon.
Built in 1897 by Oneonta resident Willard E. Yager, the theater was host to a range of entertainers, including humorist Will Rogers in 1927. Movie screenings began in 1913, FOTOT officials said.
The Oneonta Theatre has 675 seats, plus about 200 in a balcony, an orchestra pit, a 60-foot fly space and three floors of dressing rooms.
Macaluso, chairwoman of the theater department at the State University College at Oneonta, has said the Oneonta Theatre, which is in usable condition, could provide needed stage space for the community.
Macaluso has said to lose the site would be to lose part of Oneonta and its history _ and the opportunity to create more memories.
Meanwhile, crews continue on work to build a 618-seat theater at the Foothills Performing Arts Center on Market Street.
The city supports the concept of rehabilitating the theater, Nader said, but it cannot buy the property and financially has done what it can by identifying grant funding.
However, the grant may not be spent on the theater if a preservation project doesn't evolve, he said.
The approved Small Cities grant funding was $75,000 for energy-efficient appliances and other electrical upgrades and $50,000 for theater renovations.
Brzozowski said he has spoken with some aldermen about the need for an ordinance to preserve historic properties.
Nader said consideration of such an ordinance would be timely as the city begins reviewing its zoning code.
The city has the Main Street Historic District and the Walnut Street Historic District, Brzozowski said, and about a dozen historic buildings outside those two designated areas. The state Office of Historic Preservation has suggested that Oneonta establish a historic district that includes the Center City area, he said.
Macaluso said more information about the project or making donations to save the Oneonta Theatre can be found by visiting www.friendsofoneontatheater.org. FOTOT's address is P.O. Box 46, Oneonta, 13820.
Denise Richardson can be reached at 432-1000 or (800) 721-1000, ext. 213, or at. firstname.lastname@example.org.