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Makeover at The Madison

November 2, 2013

by Sam Maxwell

Renovations at the Madison Avenue theatre should be completed within the first two weeks of November. Then, it will be open to the public where patrons will be able to watch second-run movies, and before long be able to shop and bring coffee and other refreshments in from the adjacent Tierra Farms company store.

The renovations will be completed in three phases. In the first phase, five out of the seven existing theaters will be demolished, and the two remaining theaters will receive new seats and a new sound system. The layout of the two remaining theaters will remain the same, and seat around 130 people each.

During the second phase of renovations, the management will install a Tierra farm company store where two of the theaters were previously located. Finally, in the third phase the manager plans to combine the three theaters in the back of the building into a large, 400-500 person entertainment venue.

The cost of the first two phases is estimated at about $295,000, and another $250,000 will be invested in the entertainment venue, according to Gunther Fishgold, one of the managers of the theatre and one of the owners of Tierra Coffee roasters, which is located next door to the theatre. The first and second phases are being done completely out of pocket, he added.
Currently, Fishgold is renting the property, according to Joe Tesiero, the current owner of the theatre. Tesiero is a part of a group that purchased the venue in 2005, according to Albany City Property Assessment records. Tierra Farms has the option to buy the theatre at any time.

“We could have bought it right away, but did not like the financing options,” said Fishgold.

The theatre is currently under renovation, and should be open by the third week of November.

The theatre is currently under renovation, and should be open by the third week of November.

Fishgold said he expects to own the theatre by June of 2014.
Including the purchase of the theatre, the entire project will cost around $750,000, according to Fishgold.
For Fishgold, the primary motivation of purchasing the theatre was so that nobody else could. The movie theatre was an eyesore, and by renovating it, he expects the coffee shop to get more business.

“The coffee shop is doing very well and we did not want the space to be bought by someone else,” he said.

The five people who previously ran the theatre wanted someone else to run it because the partners had other things going on, and could not have any on-site management, according to Tesiero.

“Someone with an interest in the business should be the one running it,” he said.

A doorway connecting the eastern wall of the coffee shop with the theatre will enable customers to move freely from one venue to the next. All items purchased at either the company store, or the coffee shop, will be allowed into the movie theatre, Fishgold said.

Customers will no longer be limited to buying just popcorn and soda from the concession when they head to the theatre, but can now bring a panini over from the coffee shop, or any items from the store.

About two miles southeast, Tierra has another coffee shop adjacent to the Spectrum theatre. There, customers can also bring in items from other places, including the coffee shop.
“It may hurt concessions a little, but it is in the best interest of being reasonable,” said Aindrea Richard, the general manager of the Spectrum. Prohibiting customers from bringing in refreshments from other places is unfair and a silly rule to have, she added.

An all new concession stand is being installed.

An all new concession stand is being installed.

In keeping with Tierra’s mission to sell organic products, for those who prefer popcorn when going to the movies, the new Madison will feature a new concession stand with organic popcorn, and other organic products.
The seats for the two remaining theatres are expected to arrive this week or next week, and once they are installed, the theatre portion of the building will be open.

On Halloween, the theatre had a special showing of “Night of the Living Dead.” It was free to the public, and the concession stand was open.
A project manager, Damir Svraka, has been assigned to make sure the renovation and construction goes as planned. He is responsible for making sure the workers have tools, contacting subcontractors, speaking with the City to make sure they have all the correct permits, giving the City insurance paperwork, and working with Fishgold on designs.

The existing marquee will be renovated as a part of the first phase of renovations, and will be overseen by Bill Allen, a member of the Historic Albany Foundation. The price of renovating the marquee is included in the $295,000.

Allen’s vision for the marquee is to make it look similar to when the marquee was first designed back in the seventies. “I want to bring a familiarity to when I went to the Madison as a kid,” he said.

Making the marquee larger, adding chaser lights, and changing the dominant color of the sign to red are all in his plans. There will also be a main section of neon for the theatre entrance, and smaller sections of neon for the coffee shop, and company store.

“I know this is a great project and want it to look great for Albany,” said Allen.

The company store, part of the second phase of renovations, will sell many of the 180 products that Tierra Farms sell across the country. Some of these products will be nuts, chocolate, fruit, and coffee.

The store will be able to be accessible from the street, and from the theatre. It is going to take the space of two smaller theaters that were located in the front.

One Pine Hills resident who is thrilled about this is Ann Savage. Savage was a founding member of “Friends of the Madison,” an organization that was dedicated to saving the Madison from demolition in 2004. That year, there was a proposal to demolish the Madison, and replace is with a large CVS with a parking garage and drive-thru.

One of the issues that Savage had with the way the Madison was set up was how the two store front windows were the back of theaters instead of stores. The current empty storefront windows at the Madison made the property look empty from the street, Savage said.

Now, motorists and pedestrians who go by the theatre will be able to see people shopping, and not a dark window.
The store should be completed in January or February, according to Fishgold.

The theatre was not aesthetically pleasing, and was in need for additional upkeep, said Leah Golby, the Albany Common Council member for the 10th ward, where the theatre is located.

The space at the back of the building, part of the third phase, will be converted into an entertainment area.
The entertainment area will be used for comedy shows, concerts, lectures, and movies as well, according to Fishgold. However, there are some limitations as to what kinds of performances he will allow.

“I’m not trying to do rap shows,” said Fishgold. He has promoted rap shows for the Upstate Concert Hall in the past. Because of this, he knows the problems that can arise at those kinds of shows. The permit for showing movies was grandfathered in.

The combination of having to compete with the Spectrum for movies, and with the Regals of the world for customers, coupled with the theatre being run down was a combination for disaster, according to Fishgold.

Fishgold envisions the theatre as a second-run theatre, meaning it will show movies that have been out for a while. This is a change from what the Madison used to have. He wants to bring back old movies like Indiana Jones and E.T., and show them on a big screen.

“It’s just not going to compete with the malls and other first-run theatres,” he added.

Because every movie is trademarked, Fishgold would have to pay the movie companies for the right to show the movie. However, he has reached out to the various movie companies and does not see this as a problem. The movie companies still want to sell the movies to theatres because they are not making money on them anymore.
Fishgold does admit that it will be difficult to forecast which movies, that were popular at the time they came out, will still be popular in a large screen format.

“It is a shot in the dark to some degree,” said Fishgold.
Finally, in addition to its other attributes, Fishgold believes the new Madison will succeed because, “30 bucks gives a family of four movie tickets, and concession, without feeding their kids junk.” -30-


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