Bridge Theatre may be torn down

T he Clinton Street Bridge and the theater that rests upon its trusses may be removed after the village declined to take responsibility for the structure.

The village was given the opportunity last month to assume all responsibilities for the bridge, including ownership and maintenance of the 100 year old structure but declined given the financial commitment that would be necessary to repair the span.

Mayor Peter Telisky expressed his regret that the bridge may be removed after so many people worked so hard to have the Bridge Theater constructed but added the village doesn’t have the financial resources to maintain the structure, especially in light of other projects that will be need to be completed at some point, including the repair of the canal wall along North Williams Street and Department of Environmental Conservation mandated changes to the sewer system.

A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Transportation said they are working with key stake holders to determine what to do with the bridge and didn’t rule out its removal, but said a timeline had not yet been established.

Dave Mohn, who helped spearhead an effort to construct the Bridge Theater, said the Arts and Recreation Commission of Whitehall will try and sell the theater this winter, and if they are unsuccessful in finding a buyer, the theater will be removed when the bridge is taken out.

The theater has been listed at $100,000 and the organization will accept offers until mid-January.

Mohn said an infusion of cash or a benefactor is about the only way the Bridge Theater would ever host another event in its current location.

“The only way it would work is if someone came in with lots of money. We’re forever optimistic, but our future is tied to expansion of Cooke’sIsland.”

Regardless of whether it sells, the ARCW has made a list of things it would like to salvage from the building and have been in contact with DOT about determining a time when they can get those things.

“There’s some tangible things we’d like to retrieve like the outside flood lights, the inside ceiling fans and the figurines on the outside wall,” Mohn said.

Constructed in 1911 as an extension ofClinton Streetover theChamplainCanal, the bridge sat unused for a number of years until the creation of the Bridge Theater in 2000.

The sixty-seat theater served as a unique venue on the regional level hosting various theatrical productions and programs until a NYSDOT engineering inspection in June of 2009 deemed the bridge unfit for any purposes.

The theater was paid for by a combination of private and public grant monies. The ARCW received $17,500 from the state to help build the structure as well as a number of lesser grants from organizations like the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Organizers also borrowed about $40,000 to get the project started.

Mohn said the entire building was constructed using volunteer labor and BOCES students helped create the theaters’ interior walls.

“We tried to get the whole community involved,” he said. “It was quite an accomplishment.”

After the facility was closed, the ARCW relocated to the Cooke’s Island Recreation and Arts Center on lower Main Street between the Champlain Harbor Marina and the RV Park, where they host performances in a rehabilitated 1860’s structure adjacent the canal and Cooke’s Island.

The organization’s long term goal is to obtain Cooke’s Island from the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers and develop it into a nature center with trails, campsites, a vintage 1750 Indian village and a foot bridge.

But in the mean time, productions will continue be held at Cooke’sIsland.

Mohn said organizers have already begun work on next year’s schedule and most of the programs, including the youth theater which was very successful in its first year, will return next summer.

It’s possible by that time the old Bridge Theater could be gone.

“We had nine glorious years at the Bridge Theater. Hope springs eternal and maybe something will come through,” Mohn said, “but nothing is forever.”

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