CANANDAIGUA — The region’s newest performing arts center has opened.

The Fort Hill Performing Arts Center’s Sands Constellation Theater, a $4.48 million, 427-seat commercial theater, visual and performing arts center occupies the former Canandaigua Academy School auditorium. The auditorium has been vacant since 1996, when segments of the school were renovated into affordable apartments for seniors.

Opening-weekend events took place Friday, Saturday and Sunday and included performances by actors Michael Park and Nicole Hart; the Rochester Oratorio Society; Finger Lakes Opera and Rochester City Ballet; the Collective Force Jazz Ensemble; the Finger Lakes Concert Band; the Bluegrass Trio; and the Diana Jacobs Band.

New York State Homes and Community Renewal officials said the theater, at 20 Fort Hill Road, features a deep, versatile stage with overhead fly space, with both motorized and manual rigging, state-of-the-art lighting and sound system and a video system and sound shell for concert use. A 6-by-8-foot stage lift, big enough for a grand piano, allows access from the stage to the house floor and basement level for efficient handling of scenery and production equipment.

Gordon Estey, president of the Fort Hill Performing Arts Center Board, said, “Fort Hill Performing Arts Center is a dream come true for many and will be the jewel in the crown for year-round entertainment in Canandaigua.”

New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said the venue offers “a gorgeous venue for world-class visiting artists and a state-of-the-art stage for the region’s exciting and growing performing arts community. HCR is proud to have invested $2 million from our Rural and Urban Community Investment Fund, an innovative program designed to support projects like this that help grow and enrich communities.”

According to Homes and Community Renewal, additional project funding included $1.3 million in federal and state historic tax credits through the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and a Theater Equity contribution of $1.5 million, as well as private equity raised by the sponsor, Fort Hill Preservation.

The investment in the new theater dovetails with a recent $8.9 million renovation of two adjacent buildings with 57 affordable apartments for seniors. The HCR noted that it provided $5.9 million in Multifamily Preservation Program funds for the housing renovation, while the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation provided $1.57 million in federal and state historic tax credits.

“The Fort Hill Apartments and Performing Arts Center project shows how underutilized buildings can be re-imagined to provide much-needed housing, enhance quality of life and preserve local heritage,” said Erik Kulleseid, commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Added state Sen. Pam Helming: “Fort Hill Performing Arts Center is a beautiful venue that will provide space for musical theater productions, orchestra performances, visual arts exhibits and many other presentations and ceremonies. The facility will be a centerpiece for the arts in the Finger Lakes region and will be enjoyed by both residents and tourists for years to come.”

Jack Marren, Victor supervisor and chairman of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors, said, “The addition of this year-round performance venue to the Finger Lakes will benefit this region in a number of ways: quality of life for residents, increased arts and entertainment to attract visitors, economic impacts on restaurants and hotels to mention a few. This endeavor should serve as a model of what public & private collaboration on projects is able to accomplish, and I commend the FHPAC for the re-purposing of the existing building that was once the Canandaigua Academy auditorium.”

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