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February 2, 2010

New partner for Oneonta Theatre


BY DENISE RICHARDSON

STAFF WRITER

ONEONTA _ The owner of the Oneonta Theatre has joined forces with a talent promoter to present performances, concerts, touring groups, community events and fundraisers on the historic stage at 47 Chestnut St.

The partnership supersedes plans announced last year that Friends of the Oneonta Theatre would operate the facility, paying rent and utilities, working on renovations and scheduling programs.

Oneonta Theatre owner Thomas Cormier said Monday that he is grateful to FOTOT

for its support and the work its members did.

However, Cormier said, as a businessman, he wanted control of how the building is used.

Cormier said he is forming a partnership with Jon Weiss.

Details are being worked out to incorporate the Oneonta Theatre Group, Cormier said.

Weiss, a promoter from New York City, has had a second-home in Franklin for about six years. Weiss said his background includes founding ``Cavestomp!, The Garage Rock Festacular!” of 1960s underground music, among other productions.

The Oneonta Theatre is closed for renovations, the businessmen said, and the plan is to open with programming in June and restore the facility to its original purpose and function. The theatrical fixtures and interior will be refurbished, they said.

``The Oneonta Theatre is going to be a lot of fun,’’ Weiss said during an interview Monday in the lobby. ``It’s the living room of the community.’’

The theater has 675 seats, plus an enclosed balcony with about 290 seats, an orchestra pit and a 60-foot fly space. Since it was built in 1897, it has hosted vaudeville acts, movies and other performances. The property is listed on state and national registers of historic places.

For many years, the theater screened first-run movies and was the stage for show of the local Orpheus Theatre, a community group. More recently, the theater presented musicians and a film series organized by the Upper Catskill Community Council of the Arts.

The partnership meant this winter’s UCCCA series was bumped from the theater.

UCCCA interim director Cheri Albrecht said plans had been made through FOTOT to present its film series at the Oneonta Theatre. The films, under the sponsorship of the New York State Council on the Arts, were to be shown in 35mm, but that presentation format was lost in the change of venue, she said.

Albrecht said the switch happened just before promotions went out, and UCCCA was able to arrange for presentation at the Foothills Performing Arts Center at the same cost _ however, the films will be projected from DVDs. The series will start Feb. 12.

The Oneonta Theatre, which has unpainted walls and unfinished trim in the lobby, wasn’t ready to accommodate the film festival, the businessmen said, but the series would be welcomed in the future.

The fate of the theater became an issue last year as former owner Terry Mattison searched for a buyer of the property, which includes residential and commercial rental units.

Cormier bought the building in June for $255,000 and switched it into Oneonta Theatre LLC in September, an official at the Otsego County Office of Real Property Tax Services said Monday.

Cormier, who said improvements are a ``significant investment,’’ and FOTOT announced their lease agreement in September.

FOTOT had a business plan but not the funds to buy the building. Last week, Patrice Macaluso _ president of FOTOT _ said she appreciated the business-based reasons Cormier had to end the lease agreement with the group, but noted that nonprofit arts organizations have successfully managed theaters elsewhere.

Macaluso, who is also the chairwoman of the theater department at the State University College at Oneonta, said students and FOTOT volunteers had worked hard on projects for the Oneonta Theatre, which was opened for some band performances.

FOTOT as an organization will continue, she said, but she didn’t return telephone messages Monday night to comment further.

Weiss said he and Cormier struck up a partnership after renovation plans were reported in The Daily Star.

Recently, the effects of the area’s struggling economy have prompted some peaks in the cultural community. The National Soccer Hall of Fame Museum ended regular hours and laid off staff. Foothills Performing Arts Center fired staff last month in the wake of financial issues. And last week, owners of the Oneonta Tigers announced that the minor league team would move this year to Connecticut.

But the effects of the recession and upheaval in the three Oneonta institutions don’t diminish optimism for revival of the Oneonta Theatre, the businessmen agreed Monday.

The stage may present country music, jazz, blues and classical music, stand-up comedy, theatrical performances and, later, more-technically challenging productions after improvements are made.

The businessmen said they have spoken with theater professionals elsewhere and are confident the Oneonta area can support a smorgasbord of activities. In addition to area residents, audiences may change with the tourist season and college academic years, they said.

FOTOT’s support ``has been a very important part of the journey of this place,’’ Cormier said, adding that he ``has left the door open’’ to FOTOT to determine its role with the Oneonta Theatre.

He and Weiss said they will reach out to meet with local community, arts and cultural organizations to encourage use of and support of the theater. Not all performances will be money-makers, Cormier said, and the goal includes offering the facility to nonprofit groups.

``We are open to speak to and work with anyone and everybody,’’ Cormier said. ``In our opinion, everybody here needs to be our customer. When you ask who is the audience, it’s really everyone.’’