B usinessman Richard Corsetti received applause both before and after he presented his plan for creating a community cultural center in the Whitehall Armory to the town board at its Jan. 12 meeting.
Despite it being a very snowy day, more than 15 people turned out for the presentation in which Corsetti laid out the details of his plan to create a nonprofit organization to run a wide variety of events in the century-old building and open by this summer.
“This is it,” he said, clicking his PowerPoint presentation to bring up the mission statement of what he is calling the Castle Community Cultural Center.
“To create a non-profit cultural civic center designed to be a satellite income source, with the sole purpose of generating an alternative revenue stream that would be invested in a town and village gentrification plan,” he said, reading the slide.
The armory, closed more than a year ago when the state consolidated the Glens Falls and Whitehall armories in a single, new facility in Queensbury, is available for the town to purchase.
In order to use the building in the way Corsetti envisions it, the state Legislature would have to pass a special law, because right now the state requires that 51 percent of the building must be used as municipal offices. The state Office of General Services has worked with other towns and villages in the past, providing the wording for such a law.
Corsetti said his next step will be to “crunch the numbers,” and that he will be back before the town board in three weeks to present his financial estimates. The next step, he said, would be to form an exploratory committee to make sure the plan is feasible, organize the nonprofit and seek the special legislation. “From there we would identify and explore all revenue streams, establish the best use, discuss what alterations will be needed, design a gentrification plan and draw a blueprint and form a strategy,” he said.
Corsetti said he has invited Albany concert promoter Ralph Renna to come up and tour the site. In a letter, Renna expressed a good deal of interest in Corsetti’s plan. Among the possibilities Corsetti has discussed for the building are concerts, trade shows, boat shows, arts events, a coffee shop or restaurant, an art gallery and many others.
Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon had expressed some interest in moving the town offices to the building, but in the last week, the village and town have continued negotiations in regard to the town taking possession of the Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Company building as had originally been planned.
Gordon did say he thought that if all sides agreed to it, the armory would be an excellent site for all town and villages offices.
Corsetti, who worked as an executive food and beverage manager for Steve Wynn in Las Vegas for 20 years, is scheduled to open a new restaurant, Smokin’ On The Water, this weekend in the former Whitehall Times building. He and a partner Erin Perkins have also purchased The Liberty from Gordon’s family and plan to open a brew pub there.
After “retiring” to Vermont to ski, Corsetti said, he and Perkins discussed finding a place to open a restaurant. “To be honest, I saw it on Craig’s List,” Corsetti said. “I recognized Whitehall because of the armory. It is a landmark.”
Corsetti said he and Perkins relocated from northern Vermont to the Rutland area to open the restaurant and said Gordon asked him to consider making a proposal for the armory.
“We took drastic steps to do this,” he said. “We’re here, and we love the place.”
When Corsetti and school board officials toured the building two weeks ago, he was even more impressed than he expected.
“When they opened the doors, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was more than anything I could have imagined,” Corsetti said. “It was massive, and it looked like it was built yesterday. The rooms, the way they are laid out, are magnificent.”
In discussing his objectives for the project, Corsetti said his priority is to “preserve the integrity” of the armory, to make sure the community and the local economy benefit from its uses and “to utilize the existing assets of the property to form a multi-purpose cultural center.”
He also said he feels the armory could be the linchpin to a renewal in Whitehall.
“We want to create a central attraction that will stimulate commerce in the town and village of Whitehall. We need to re-invent, to think outside the box,” he said. “We’re missing one piece of the puzzle, one major attraction.”