The city is hoping plans it has to invest in the arts will make going downtown to catch a show just as common as grabbing a drink or a bite to eat, with its proposed 38 Arts Building project.
The project would convert the bulk of 38 Main St. into a building devoted to the arts, both community and professional. It would convert two floors, about 3,000 square feet, of space in the building to house actors who would be performing at the Cortland Repertory Theatre and also create a stage area for other productions.
Last week the city secured $360,000 in grant funding through the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council to put toward the project. The conversion would be enough to house as many as 12 performers visiting Cortland to work at Cortland Repertory Theatre.
The cast and crew responsible for putting on productions for the theater do not entirely comprise people from the area, with many performers coming from as far away as New York City to work and act in Cortland.
Kerby Thompson, CRT’s producing artistic director, said Wednesday the theater can hire up to 70 out-of-towners at a time for at least a month. These people often rely on vacant student housing or the generosity of residents for a place to stay.
Having long-term temporary housing available all year would allow the theater to keep putting on winter productions while helping to cement its status as a professional and desirable place for actors to work, Thompson said.
“As much as they audition for us, we’re auditioning for them in how we treat them while they’re here,” he said. “Actors that you hire talk to other actors. So when they say we got really great housing … that makes people want to work at that theater, too.”
A potential 38 Arts building would also include a 1,100-square-foot performance venue on the ground floor that would be made available to both CRT staff and members of the community looking to hold smaller, more intimate productions.
Thompson said he regularly talks to people who are looking for specifically the type of smaller public venue a 38 Arts building would offer.
On Wednesday, Cortland Downtown Partnership Executive Director and Alderman Adam Megivern (R-7th Ward) said it was while drafting the application for the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds earlier this year, that he recognized the potential benefit of investing in the arts downtown.
Though the city ended up losing out on the funding to Oswego, officials came away with a solid plan that would both fill a need for the theater and fulfill the city’s goal of bringing more people downtown to work and live.
“As you’re bringing artists into your community that are actually living right in your downtown, there’s going to be an interest in other artists following suit,” he said. “With that you get people … wanting to be closer to where the artists are living.”
Megivern called it a creative way to develop the upper floors of downtown businesses.
Megivern also noted that while the owner of the building and the State Farm Insurance Co. office on the first floor, Al Myers, plans to sell the building, currently assessed at more just over $178,300, he also plans to keep his business in the property.
Either CRT or the Downtown Partnership will ultimately own the building, but those details are still being worked out, Megivern said.
With the project to convert space expected to cost at least $1.8 million, Megivern said the $360,000 the city secured in grant funding helps. However, the project is a long way off from being completed as the search for more funding continues.
The hope is to begin construction sometime within the next two years, he said.