The Cohoes Music Hall is in limbo.
On Tuesday, the Cohoes Common Council will decide whether or not to cancel a contract with the Music Hall Arts Alliance, the company that manages the historic venue.
“We’re going to have to see depending on how the vote goes . . . if we can come up with an agreement that is suitable for all the parties involved. I certainly understand the city’s financial situation. We’re all feeling it,” said Holly Brown, the executive director of the Music Hall.
She has managed the venue since 2018, under the current contract with the city, which is scheduled to run through 2022. However, Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler contacted Brown last week and said that due to financial constraints caused by COVID-19, he plans to request that the council cancel the contract.
“The structure of the current contracts for programming at the Cohoes Music Hall, entered into in 2019, are not financially sustainable, particularly when it is not possible to have performances,” Keeler said in a statement.
According to the contract, the city would pay a $90,000 management fee in 2020. The Music Hall would then pay the city $2.50 per ticket sold. Last year, that amounted to $38,000.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Keeler also plans to request the cancelation of the city’s contract with Park Playhouse, which creates programming for both the Music Hall and Canal Square Park.
“Cohoes is a small city. It’s a city of less than 17,000 people and we’re taking on a net loss of a quarter-million dollars combined with these two contracts every year and it’s been one year after another, the losses just compound. It was not on a sustainable footing and the pandemic and the economic fallout from the pandemic really put it under the magnifying glass,” Keeler told The Gazette on Monday.
According to Christopher Briggs, a member of the Council, the city is in a difficult position.
“As a municipality, [we’re] anticipating a significant reduction in sales tax and state aid; we’re anticipating a large hole in our current budget and most likely next year’s budget also,” Briggs said.
“If it comes between public safety and the arts, unfortunately, it seems as if the arts always suffer,” Briggs said.
Should the council vote to cancel the contract, it would have to give the Music Hall a 90-day notice. Keeler said he would then put out a Request for Qualifications, with the hope that Brown and others in the community would submit their resumes and proposals for managing the Music Hall.
“I think at the end of the day we will end up with a Music Hall that is open but running in a manner that is sustainable in the long term for the city,” Keeler said.
“I’m hopeful that we can figure something out with the City of Cohoes so that it works for them financially. I’m also hoping that maybe this is a short term move. That the contract could be suspended maybe for 12 months or something and we can pick [it] back up,” Brown said.
Briggs also hopes to keep the Music Hall going.
“I’m hoping that we’re able to work with someone, maybe the current people that are involved, with a new proposal. . . . By no means is the city thinking of mothballing the Music Hall. It’s an important building, it delivers an extremely important theme to Cohoes: [That] we’re part of the arts,” Briggs said.
Since closing the venue’s doors in mid-March, Brown has been working to reschedule as many concerts as possible for the fall and to keep the Music Hall active, including working with Peak Music Studio to livestream a master class from the Music Hall on Tuesday.
However, there’s no guarantee that concerns over COVID-19 will abate anytime soon, which makes this one of the most challenging times Brown has experienced in her 28 years in the business.
“This year’s tough because we’re looking this virus in the face and saying ‘How does our industry as a whole move forward?’ That coupled with this contract conversation is making it challenging, but I know that things have to get back to normal at some point. Our goal is to continue to make the Music Hall one of the best venues in the region,” Brown said.