Live Arts Moving to the Waterfront

After 15 years, the founders and producers of the Live Arts and Philly Fringe Festival, Philly’s off-beat theatre and musical festival, will soon be moving to an interesting new home. It will mean the repurposing of a 100-plus-year old building along the waterfront.

“It will be a kind of central hub,” said President and Promoting Director Nick Stuccio, also a founder. “From that central hub you can go off and have an adventure.”

Future home for Live Arts

Maybe to a restaurant in Northern Liberties, a gallery in Old City, or a warehouse in Kensington. Maybe, if last year’s schedule is any indication, you’ll head to see the “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” performance; or “Goose Feathers: Nursery Rhymes for Kids Over 18.”

Last year, Live Arts purchased a pumping station built in 1903 that provided additional water for fighting fires in Center City, located at Race Street and Columbus Boulevard, for $750K. When the 2013 Fringe Festival kicks off this fall, its home base will be situated at the station, which is now being renovated to include a 240-seat theatre, and ultimately a bar and restaurant, office space and an outdoor plaza located along Race Street. Only the theatre is planned to be ready by this fall’s festivities. A$1M state Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program grant helped to secure necessary financing for the purchase. The total cost of renovations will top out around $7M, according to Stuccio.

Interior shot from a couple of years ago

Those renovations will play off the industrial character of the building. Old cranes and pumps will remain. No drywall will be added to the theatre.

When Stuccio and company first launched the Fringe Festival in 1997, they relied on building owners to allow them to use unoccupied storefronts in Old City around 3rd and Market Streets.

“It was fine when Philly was what it was in 1997,” said Stuccio.

But the real estate market boomed and Philadelphia’s popularity grew. No longer did owners want to risk taking their buildings off the market for a few months for the Fringe staff to utilize the spaces to run the festival. A lack of a home base also presented organizational issues and offered confusion at times for audience members who were unsure where to buy tickets.

“We knew this [was] a losing formula,” said Stuccio.

The purchase of the pumping station represents the realization of 10 years of fundraising and networking efforts. When all the renovations are completed, this theatre will mark another step in the long-coming development of the Delaware River Waterfront. One might think a granny was guiding the development along with her walker, it has evolved with such sluggishness. Still, with the still shiny and new Race Street Pier across the street, this theatre will mark another step in reinvigorating that waterfront. And It’s one heck of a creative step.

–Lou Mancinelli