Stadium Theatre looks to rehab newly purchased Stadium Building with $2 million from state bond

Stadium Theatre looks to rehab newly purchased Stadium Building with $2 million from state bond

Stadium Theatre and Performing Arts Center Executive Director Cathy Levesque stands inside the long-neglected, but newly acquired "Stadium Building," showing plans for how Main Street Woonsocket will look when the project is complete.

WOONSOCKET - Supporters of the Stadium Theatre Performing Arts Center are encouraging residents to vote 'yes' on Question 5, addressing Rhode Island Creative and Cultural Economy Bonds - a $35 million proposal to fund improvements at nine leading performing arts facilities across the state.

The bond would include more than $2 million for the Woonsocket theater, and the funding would be used to repair an adjacent four-story property that the Stadium acquired earlier this year. Purchase of the "Stadium Building," a historic property built at the same time and by the same architect as the theater, amounts to a 30,000-square-foot expansion for the successful venue.

While staff has already begun using the space for everything from props and costumes to sets, the property still needs an estimated $4 million to $5 million in renovations before it can be reborn as the envisioned "Stadium Conservatory."

According to Stadium CEO and Executive Director Cathy Levesque, Question 5 would provide a needed boost for a thriving city venue looking to take its programing to the next level.

"The conservatory will support the existing activities of the Stadium Theatre and will become a recognized and respected center for the performing arts and theater arts education," Levesque said.

Plans for the building, which are already underway, include dedicated spaces for costuming, set and prop building, as well as spaces for rehearsal and performing arts classes. The building will feature a recording and photo studio, additional dressing rooms and a 150-seat black box theater.

But the project has a long way to go to meet the vision. After sitting vacant for several years, the Stadium Building is in a derelict state and renovation will require an enormous amount of scraping, cleaning and construction. Theater staff has already brought the building into compliance with local building and fire codes, but Levesque said far more work needs to get done.

The property at 329 Main St. was built in 1926 by Arthur I. Darman and was intended from the start to be tied to the theater. It was once home to three long halls of office space, from doctors and dentists to the Stadium's business space, with the lower levels of the building used to house the theater's box office and several retail storefronts.

Most of the offices emptied out in the 1990s, and street level shops remained for about another decade. The theater itself was saved from abandonment, restored and reopened in 2001, but the smaller adjoining property had been largely neglected and forgotten until recently.

Developer Leszek Przybylko sought a zoning variance supporting his proposal to create condominiums on the property in 2013, but zoners denied his request for a break from setback and parking requirements. Levesque was among those who testified against the variance, saying the developer's idea could be detrimental to the theater, a major engine in the local economy.

The Stadium purchased the building in January, and the staff immediately moved the theater's immense collection of costumes, props and set material to the neighboring location, including everything from sewing machines, to wigs and hats.

"The theater was paying $2,000 a month for off-site storage," said Levesque. "That money covers the mortgage on the building. Now we have it on location and it's wonderful."

If Question 5 passes, the Stadium is slated to receive $2,108,400 of the state arts bond to complete renovations and convert the building into a fully functioning arts conservatory, and Levesque has a detailed vision for every inch of the immense space.

"We're going to make sure the integrity of the building is maintained, but we're going to make it very functional," she said.

The basement will be converted to a black box theater with seating for 150. The new venue will provide space for straight plays and original works that amount to smaller productions than the theater's large-scale musicals.

"It's more intimate," said Levesque, who added that the space will be adjustable to accommodate theater in the round and runway-style events. "We will have the ability to morph that stage depending on the show."

On the first floor, imitation storefronts will help to create the impression of a bustling downtown Woonsocket. A new garage on the back of the building will allow for delivery and removal of some of the theater's larger props, while other elements of sets are continually being built and stored.

The theater hosts performances nearly every Thursday through Sunday, plus educational programming, and with the addition of the new Marquee Room, the show and rehearsal schedule has the potential to bring some 200 to 300 people to Woonsocket each day, according to Levesque.

Some of those rehearsals will soon be held in spaces on the building's second floor, which will also include a small recording studio and photo studio for actors' headshots. Costumes and extra dressing rooms will be housed on the third floor.

"We're trying our best to accommodate those who are coming to our education programs by creating a one-of-a-kind performing arts organization within the region," explained Levesque.

All of the theater's administrative offices will be moved from their current street level to the fourth floor, and instead of the current setup, where guests purchase tickets inside the office, the Stadium will have a more conventional ticket window at the front of the building.

In the former office space, a gift shop will sell flowers and cards, as well as souvenirs including T-shirts from each production. Levesque's current office will be turned into a coffee and pastry shop.

"Downtown Woonsocket will once more become a bustling mecca of activity, life and economic development," she said.

But first, she said, the bond must pass to help the theater move the ambitious project forward.

The passage of Question 5 would also authorize historic preservation grants, and a competitive grants program for other projects across the state. In addition to the Stadium, facilities targeted for improvements include Trinity Repertory Company, Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School, The United Theatre, Chorus of Westerly, 2nd Story Theatre, AS220, WaterFire Providence and the Newport Performing Arts Center. Supporters say the bond will be a powerful engine for creating jobs and attracting new dollars to Rhode Island communities, pointing out that arts nonprofits account for $325 million in direct and indirect spending in the state, and that when creative and arts-driven businesses are included in the calculations, the creative sector accounts for 12.7 percent of all employment.


The last thing this state needs is more debt. These are private interests. That being said...i'm surprised the state is seeking voter approval!

Nelson Aldrich, you're right about private interests, but why would you be surprised? The state doesn't want another so-called "moral obligation" bond for 38 Stadiums.

Bonds = Borrowing more to spend more = your taxes. The cultural arts should try operating as a business. Offer a service that is going to generate a profit. Use those profits to upgrade/expand the business. NOT feeding from the government's hand and taxpayer's pockets.
The operating deficits by fiscal year are as follows: $151.1 million in FY 2016, $256.7 million in FY 2017, $330.5 million in FY 2018, and $419.3 million in FY 2019.