A $2 million proposal to renovate the auditorium at Amherst city hall has been received by mayor Mark Costilow’s office.
He hopes to have a plan in place to restore the historic second floor space in mid-2018, provided a large amount of funding can be secured.
Three firms took out request-for-proposal forms from city hall when Costilow expressed interest earlier this year in ideas for renovations to the 1884 building. One company returned with a pitch, Costilow said Thursday.
About half the project cost would be covered by outside funding such as grants and private contributions, he said.
That means city council would have to approve about $1 million in funding. Part of that could come from historic preservation tax credits from the state, which are awarded through a competitive application process.
Costilow said he envisions the auditorium as a community space for meetings, weddings, parties, plays, and concerts.
Some of that depends on whether architects would settle on a flat or sloped floor to the space, however.
While the main floor of city hall, including council chambers, would remain untouched, the project would include a significant overhaul to the basement level.
The downstairs once served as the Amherst fire station, then was retrofitted as the police station until 1996.
The mayor said it could potentially be used for either city offices or be rented to a private business.
“Our new IT department could go down there, or our office on aging,” Costilow said. “These are all just pipe dreams now, though I’ve been thinking about all this since I was safety-service director.”
Such sweeping renovations to the 133-year-old building at the center of Amherst have long been considered, but have been set aside due to budget constraints.
Former mayor John Higgins in 2002 eyed a renovation plan that did not materialize. His successor, mayor David Taylor, saw the city through a financially tight period and often said there was simply not money for such projects.
Last summer, city councilman Joe Miller attempted to organize a golf outing fundraiser for the city hall auditorium, but it never teed off.
Around the same time, Costilow gave the News-Times access to the old “opera house,” as it was once called, showing how it has been stripped to the rafters in recent decades. We saw exposed electrical components, bullet holes in the walls from when police would fire practice rounds, and areas where roof repairs had been made.
Amherst high school commencement ceremonies were held there until 1923 and plays continued until 1951.
The late philanthropist Eric Nord once gifted Amherst $250,000 for renovations, and the money has been used for tuck-pointing and new windows. The fund has dwindled by about half.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
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