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Adams, Topia Swap Opposing Views On Theater Priority

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
08:58PM / Tuesday, January 08, 2013
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Dozens of people attended the community development strategy meeting on Tuesday.

ADAMS, Mass. — A rift between the town and the Topia Arts Center may have begun to heal Tuesday through good old-fashioned public discussion.

On the town's side, officials had dropped the theater from its priority list while they waited for Topia backers to present a business and marketing plan and demonstrate ongoing usage of the former Adams Theater — the requirements for most state grants.

But Topia officials felt the town hasn't helped enough to get the theater up to a point where they can have regular programming. The former theater is not insulated and needs bathrooms and dressing rooms in order to have ongoing usage.

At a public hearing Tuesday night regarding the town's community development strategy, both sides explained their positions and vowed to work closer to complete the project.

"Topia is an awesome, awesome project. When I was first hired, if someone put a gun to my head and asked me what would have the best chance at revitalizing Adams, I would have said Topia Arts Center," Town Administrator Jonathan Butler said. "But it needs community support."

Butler and Director of Community Development Donna Cesan said they have worked with Topia before to help apply for grants but were often rejected because the nonprofit group had not demonstrated a history of success. Town money cannot legally go toward nonprofits so they have to depend on state grant programs.

But Topia officials said they haven't had the town's support in going after grant monies aggressively to revitalize the building. Topia board member Mara Woolley presented a report outlining the programming the center has been able put on including live music, circus arts, plays and school shows.

But with all the relationships the group has made with artists around the world, the amount of programming is limited because of the building. Topia had hoped that the town would continue to place a priority on it to reel in money to help.

"To attract theater companies, they need dressing rooms and bathrooms immediately," Nathan Samson, of Topia, said. "You can only do so much when the building can only do so much."

Bill Kolis, who now owns the former Firehouse Cafe, said Topia's potential to put "feet on the ground" should be a high priority because it will help all of the Park Street businesses.

"I'd rather see Topia open before my business," he said. "We need to make this a destination."

Kolis estimated that the theater would need about $150,000 for insulation and about $300,000 for a heating and cooling system.

"There is money out there designated for the arts and we should be going after it," he said.

Becoming a destination, however, requires gaining widespread community support, town officials said, and the center needs to do more to demonstrate that it will succeed. They said the group should try to get local programming and get residents to attend events there and set attendance goals to show progress.

"Frankly, that's your gap," Cesan said of the "Catch 22" of needing higher attendance numbers to get money to increase attendance numbers.

The group began leasing the building in 2005 with plans for $5 million worth of renovations. Members have since pared down the renovation wish list.

The town used state money to renovate the exterior and Armory Court, and Topia raised funds to work on the inside but there is still more to be done.

Town officials said that in recent years, they have not heard much from Topia so Tuesday's discussion with stakeholders could help reinvigorate the project.


Tags: community development,   Topia Arts Center,   

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