Batavia Players staying put for now

Feb 4, 2015

BATAVIA -- As 2014 came to a close, Patrick Burk wanted to hone in on all of the good things at Harvester 56 Theater, including Batavia Players' growth and success.

Now that the theatrical group's annual gala -- the best one so far, he says -- has kicked off a New Year, he was ready to talk about the "blip" on his map.

The Players will not be working towards owning a new home on South Swan Street.

"There was a lot of disappointment, I was probably the most disappointed. I can't take a nearly 90-year-old organization and gamble with it, not something this well accepted and supported," he said Monday. "Our main purpose is continuing to provide the best theater in whatever facility we have. We're keeping our options open."

The Harvester Avenue site has been Batavia Players second permanent home in its 83-year history. Since it became chartered in 1932, it has loosely taken root in churches, school buildings and the former Treadway Inn.

When the group moved into a site at Horseshoe Lake in the mid-1960s, that was its first real theater for many years until fire destroyed the building.

Burk, the group's leader, had a vision of sustaining the Harvester site for 10 years when he and group members moved in five years ago. After one year of serious renovations to the industrial space and four years of equally intense entertainment, the acting troupe has pushed the limits of space, from 3,900 to about 8,000 square feet.

Although no one was actively seeking another place, it was becoming evident that the Players was growing "a very successful educational program." That was moved over from the high school, which meant about 75 child performers filing into 56 Harvester.

Burk protested the move at first, because he didn't think there was enough room. He later came to see it as a wonderful opportunity to give kids a more professional atmosphere.

This past year, 144 child and adult performers crossed the stage and two more shows were added for a total of 13. Success aside, a board of directors had to weigh out the pros and cons of moving into the former St. Nicholas Social Club site.

Its location within a flood zone meant that renovations could cost no more than 49 percent of the total cost, or the Players would have incurred more work to be done per flood zone standards, Burk said.

That halfway mark added up fast with the costs of a sprinkler system -- required for such a project -- and handicap accessiblity improvements. That wasn't even counting bathroom improvements, a hot water tank and constructing the actual theater space.

After three architectural reviews, it was determined that the building would have had to be physically raised and the basement would be unuseable.

"It's a shame. The flood issue in the city really is stopping a tremendous amount of development," he said. "If we did everything that we had to do, it would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars."

The group is still working out the details of the deal, which had required a down payment on the property to owner Jeremy Yasses. During a Planning & Development Committee meeting last year, Burk was hopeful that it would go through more smoothly. All of the details were not known until money was put down and a contract signed, he said.

He encourages anyone with suggestions for a potential theater site to let him know. "There's no suggestion that's odd," he said.