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Upstate New York's 13 historic theatres lobby for state funding

Ava Pukatch

A coalition of the 13 historic theatres in upstate New York is lobbying the state for ongoing funding.

Mike Intaglietta, executive director of Syracuse's Landmark Theatre, said establishing the fund puts an investment into the hearts of downtowns. People aren't just going to the theatre when they visit. They're spending nights in hotels, eating at local restaurants and shopping in local stores.

"We're economic generators," Intaglietta said. "Not just directly through the money we spend, but through the audiences we attract."

The 13 theatres in the Alive Downtowns coalition are of similar size and age. They also have similar histories — opening as movie cinemas, nearly being demolished and later being renovated to become staples in their downtown community.

"These are assets that our great-grandparent's generation built and that our parent's generation saved," Intaglietta said. "It's our job to keep them alive and flourishing. They're worthy of investment, not just from the state, but from anyone who is looking to support a worthwhile cause."

Philip Morris is CEO of Proctors Collaborative in Schenectady — one of the larger theatres in upstate. He said the coalition was born out of Zoom calls the theatres did as they navigated how to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. During one of those calls, Rochester State Senator Jeremy Cooney suggested the group form an organization like a zoo or aquarium or public television and radio and ask the legislature and the governor for an allocation.

"It just struck us that was absolutely right," Morris said. "We were absolutely unique to our communities and in order to thrive, we had to not just get through the COVID nightmare, but have the resources to grow the things that made us so important to our communities."

The coalition is asking for $20 million from the state. It'll be allocated two ways with 15% divided evenly between the 13 theaters and the remaining 85% divided based by budgets. Funding is intended for operational costs which increased during the pandemic. Audiences haven't returned to pre-pandemic numbers and costs from continued COVID-19 protocol and increased airflow add up.

But, Morris said even if they only get a portion of the funding they'll consider that successful, but will continue to lobby until they get the amount they believe they deserve.

"If we're going to be a state of the arts, really upstate's got to be a player," Morris said.

The Alive Downtown coalition includes Bardavon 1869 Opera House, Clemens Center Downtown Elmira, Palace Theatre Albany, Proctors Collaborative, Reg Lenna Center For The Arts, RBTL's Auditorium Theatre, Shea's Performing Arts Center, Smith Center For The Arts, Stanley Theatre Utica, State Theatre of Ithaca, Syracuse Area Landmark Theatre, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and Ulster Performing Arts Center.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.