The first swing in restoring the empty auditorium at the top of Amherst city hall will be taken this fall — on the golf course.
The Amherst Mayor’s Cup will tee off at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10 at Dragon Ranch Golf Club on Rt. 58 in Amherst Township.
City councilman Joe Miller has been working with council president John Dietrich, safety-service director John Jeffreys, and mayor Mark Costilow to launch the fundraiser.
“Our goal is to bring awareness to the condition of city hall’s upstairs auditorium,” he said. “We have a beautiful, underused asset in our city that many groups such as the schools, city, or theater productions could put to good use.”
The outing would be open to all city workers and elected and appointed officials.
Miller said he’s hammering out the details of sponsorships, but whatever money is raised will be used to bring about safe conditions for tours of the defunct auditorium.
We climbed earlier this spring to the balcony of the old theater hall with Costilow, who is enthusiastic about one day seeing the space used.
The last commencement ceremony to be held in “the opera house,” as it was called, was in 1923. Plays continued to be held there until 1950-1951.
In the decades since it fell into disuse, the auditorium ceiling has been stripped down to its rafters, some electrical components are exposed, and there are bullet holes in the walls from where police used to shoot off practice rounds.
Yet it’s still structurally sound, according to Costilow. An elevator installed in the building in recent years goes all the way up, making the space compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. And even unfinished and faded, the space is gorgeous with tall columns and scrolled woodwork.
Amherst philanthropist Eric Nord at one point gifted the city with $250,000 for renovations, an undertaking last championed by the late mayor John Higgins in 2002. A city auditorium renovation fund has been tapped over the years for tuck-pointing and new windows among other small updates and today holds $129,000.
That’s not nearly enough to restore the auditorium to its former glory, Costilow has said.
Only $10,000 has been budgeted for use this year. The mayor said upstairs renovations are on his wish list but he didn’t wanted to be tempted to tackle such a huge undertaking in his first year in office when so many other needs demand attention.
Miller called the auditorium an asset the community sorely lacks. He envisions one day seeing plays, meetings, Scouting ceremonies, and perhaps even weddings in the space.
If he has his way, Miller said the space needs to be restored as closely as possible to its old glory, not simply renovated with a modern eye. He wants to tap local historians to help advise the process and see that vision through.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times The long-empty auditorium at the top of Amherst city hall could get an overhaul in coming years, provided there is funding.