AU SABLE FORKS - Efforts to invigorate business and activity in downtown Au Sable Forks are getting a huge boost as a renowned arts foundation now seeks to turn an abandoned building into a thriving cornerstone of the community.
The Appleby Foundation, the nonprofit umbrella of Rebecca Kelly Ballet, has recently purchased the Tahawus Lodge, a historic Masons' building in Au Sable Forks with the intention to renovate and reopen it as a cultural, community, and commercial center.
The building, built in 1911, was one of few to survive a 1925 fire that tore through the village and has stood up to recent floods and earthquakes, but has been out of use for over 20 years and is in need of extensive repair.
With the support of the Au Sable Forks Main Street Revitalization committee and the Essex County Empire Zone, the arts foundation will now seek to raise $1.2 million for the renovation of the three-story building.
Based in New York City and the Adirondacks, Rebecca Kelly Ballet has brought public dance performances and youth programs to towns throughout the North Country for more than 22 years, including choreography workshops and dance classes in Plattsburgh, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Jay, Essex, Lake Placid, Potsdam, and North Creek.
Rebecca Kelly and her husband, Craig Brashear, who heads the Appleby Foundation, have also lived seasonally in the area for the past 22 years at their home in Silver Lake.
Dozens of local residents joined them at a June 27 reception hosted by American Legion Post 504 as they presented their plan for the new Tahawus Lodge Center.
"In our 35 years as practicing artists and through our not-for-profit organization, the Appleby foundation... we have created programs which strengthen communities through the arts," said Kelly.
Kelly said they chose the Tahawus Lodge because of its prominent location in the center of Au Sable Forks and its proximity to I-87, Burlington, Plattsburgh, Lake Placid, and Montreal. Also, the presence of a revitalization committee showed a strong commitment to reviving the community.
"We gradually came to think as we established a more permanent presence in this region that the Tahawus Lodge Center could be its anchor," said Kelly.
Plans for the building include restoring the picture-window storefront and renovating the ground floor as a retail space. The second floor would be turned into an open art studio and meeting space and the third floor converted into a dance and wellness center.
"We're thrilled," said Au Sable Forks Revitalization committee chair Susan Pulitzer, noting how synergistic the Appleby Foundation's plans for the building are with the committee's goals for Main Street. "It's a nice marriage."
In less than a month, $80,000 has already been pledged toward the project, which is being designed by Essex architectural team Premises.
Brashear said they expect to fund 40 percent of the project through contributions from businesses and individuals. The rest will come from state grants and assistance.
"The Tahawus Lodge Center project is a viable and welcome addition to Au Sable Forks to make it a better place to live and work," said Barbara Brassard, Essex County Empire Zone Coordinator. "This project not only deserves, but demands total support."
Brassard said since the Tahawus Lodge Center is an approved Community Development Project within Essex County Empire Zone, contributions of $500 or more to the project are eligible for a 25 percent tax credit against state income tax.
"The revitalization process doesn't happen overnight, but in steps," Brassard added, "and the renovation of the Tahawus Lodge is one of those steps."
Because the project is beginning in 2009, it is also eligible for funds from a $200,000 main street revitalization grant awarded to the town of Jay from New York State.
"I have read their project overview, and their overall plan for enhancing an anchor building in Au Sable Forks will have a significant economic impact on our community," said Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas in a press release. "Their sincere dedication to enhancing new opportunities for our youth is greatly appreciated."