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Holyoke, Mass., Officials Hope to Start Full-Scale Renovation On Victory Theatre Later This Year

Mon July 01, 2024 - Northeast Edition
Daily Hampshire Gazette

Drone photo courtesy of Odeh Engineers

Construction bid documents for the $71 million planned rehabilitation and reopening of the 104-year-old Broadway-style Victory Theatre in downtown Holyoke, Mass., are expected to be finalized by the end of the summer, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported June 30.

The news is a good sign for a project that many believe will be transformational for the region's arts scene and serve as an economic catalyst for Holyoke.

Susan Palmer, the theatre's project manager, told the city's development and government relations committee in June that the documents could be ready by Aug. 1, a month earlier than anticipated, meaning that the rehabilitation work remains on target.

With $78 million in funding sources, and a nearly $22 million investment in private equity from Axos Bank of San Diego, facilitated by Stifel Investment Bank of St Louis, enough money is available for the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MiFA) to begin work on the Victory Theatre to begin, Palmer told the Gazette.

Additionally, Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia pledged $2 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money toward the work in late 2022.

"In terms of have we identified enough money to get the job done? We have," said Palmer, who has an expertise in theater upgrades.

She added that the project will draw people into the community when the work is completed by June 2026.

Crews Currently Preparing for Renovations

In 2009, MiFA acquired the rundown site at 81-89 Suffolk St. in Holyoke — a building that has now been closed for 45 years.

In recent weeks, heavy machinery has been positioned inside, with workers on the roof and in the structure's ceilings. All 1,600 of its old seats have been removed as part of the construction's preparations, noted the Gazette, based in Northampton, Mass.

MiFA Executive Artistic Director Donald T. Sanders told Holyoke's development and government relations committee that progress on the theatre is "extraordinary."

He also provided a tour of the building in the last week of June, with some walls opened up to continue a necessary evaluation in preparation for the construction bid documents.

The tour comes on the heels of last spring's completion of a $400,000 restoration of two 23-ft.-tall murals created by Italian immigrant Vincent Maragliotti in 1942. Although the murals have returned to Holyoke, they are being kept off site and will not be put back alongside either side of the theatre's stage until the renovation work is completed.

Much of the ongoing work is not yet visible to the public, explained Matt Jacobs, construction manager for Barr & Barr in nearby Springfield. Crews are currently in the midst of gaining access to various areas of the building so they can finish the construction bid documents as well as mitigate water infiltration and prevent any deterioration that might occur.

Sanders provided a summary of work done at the theatre last winter and into early spring, including various roof repairs and investigations, and making the building's parapet and chimney safe, Later in the spring, he said, a Jersey barrier and custom scrim along Chestnut Street was installed, along with the placement of a temporary fence near the alley, and the removal of some ceilings ahead of the structural reviews.

City Leaders Have Differing Opinions On Project

The Gazette noted that there is both enthusiasm and concern about the Victory Theatre rehabilitation project from Holyoke city councilors who serve on the development committee.

Ward 6 Councilor Juan Anderson-Burgos said that people should see the theatre as a piece of history in the city and as being similar to venues in other areas.

"This is what we need in this city, because if it's good enough for Boston, if it's good enough for New York, if it's good enough for Rhode Island, well, dang it, it's good enough for Holyoke," Anderson-Burgos remarked.

But At-Large Councilor Michael Sullivan contended that city residents believe Holyoke officials need to first concentrate on fixing problems with crime, which he said will continue to discourage people from coming to events, even if the theatre renovation is complete in the coming years.

Development committee chair and Ward 4 Councilor Kocayne Givner said more affordable housing, enhanced municipal services and increased policing can all be generated from revenue from people who come to Holyoke for shows at the Victory Theatre and then spend money at other local businesses.

"Having more funds to do the things we need is really helpful, so why not take the money from those who would like to come in and spend it," Givner explained.

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