By Allison Deutschman
Youngstown resident David Graf attended the Village Board meeting Thursday night with a replica of the Cold Storage unit in tow. Graf held a 30-minute presentation during the public portion of the meeting, explaining his desire to turn the facility on Third Street into a multipurpose theater and, ultimately, a performing arts academy.
Near West Theatre, a $7.3 million theater in downtown Cleveland, inspired Graf, as it was made specifically for multipurpose. He said very few theatres are multipurpose.
"Part of the issues with something like this is revenue generation. You guys were concerned that it could just die and you would be stuck with it, but what I am offering is multiuse," Graf told the board, noting that, for example, with removable seating, there would be 1,000 square feet of open space to hold conferences.
In Graf's designs he also proposed holding banquets in the open space, involving the culinary arts students with a kitchen operating inside. There would be a practice stage, dance studio, various shops and ample storage to rent out.
The idea came to Graf about two months ago after discussions with his daughter (who holds theater workshops each summer for 9-14-year-olds), and seeing the need for another venue for productions.
His daughter jokingly said, "You should build me a theater," and Graf ran with the idea.
"Even if I have to tear it all out, the outside structure is still good," Graf said in response to community members' concern about the age of the building and stability of the materials. With doors and loading docks, there is an excess of material to work with, Graf claimed.
Graf has yet to be granted approval from the village to enter the Cold Storage unit to see the inside, but he continues to brainstorm anyway.
The aforementioned Near West Theatre was built from scratch with no structural foundation. Graf predicted a similar $7 million budget would be necessary here, since he is unsure about what exactly he is working with inside the facility.
"You want to know how I'm going to find it (the funds). There are so many foundations," Graf said. "This theater hits five critical areas for funding: education, arts, historical, green and children."
Graf said he wants to utilize grants, patrons and crowd-funding for his endeavor. He also plans on outsourcing all of the functions of the academy. The building, then, just has to cover its rent. Thus, there will be sliding rates for using the space.
"This is going to be a teaching theater, and it is for teaching children how to survive in this world. It is such a motivational tool for children," Graf said. He referenced local schools utilizing theatrics in autistic classrooms, as well as prisons.
Community participation and networking are critical to make these dreams a reality, Graf emphasized. He is speaking with community members and Western New York transplants who work in architecture and restoration of old buildings throughout the U.S. to see what they can contribute to these plans.
On May 1, Graf will meet with Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek, executive director of Near West Theatre, to find out more about operating and construction costs. He said the numbers would give him the ability to get funding.
"I have kids coming up to me saying they will give me dollars. There are so many kids who are into this theater thing; trust me," Graf said.
Graf is in the process of setting up a Facebook page and website for his initiative. He would like to start working on this right away so that, ideally, it is in place for next summer.
Village of Youngstown Attorney Tom Caserta is putting together a liability release so that Graf can look inside the building.