It’s mid-November, and Threshold Arts is out in the cold -- at least as far as the Castle Community goes.
In September 2020, the Castle ownership announced that Echo Church would occupy the second-floor arts and cultural space for one year, holding services on the third floor of the former armory building at 121 N. Broadway, Rochester.
The original plan was to end the arts sabbatical on Sept. 1.
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Now that the Castle Community has extended the church's tenure twice, by two months at a time, the owners are in breach of contact with the city, according to Jennifer Kellogg of the Rochester city clerk's office. The city selected Castle Community from a group of competing proposals three years ago to bring public life to the former armory, previously used as the Rochester Senior Center.
On Nov. 11, the City of Rochester issued an initial notice to The Castle, LLC regarding its alleged breach of contract, with 60 days to come back into compliance.
That hasn't led to an immediate return of Threshold Arts to the space.
The recent round of Chateau Theater reuse proposals has brought this issue to the forefront, because Threshold Arts, one of a handful of candidates for the Chateau space, is also still negotiating with Castle ownership to return to the space they helped found in 2018.
“We are maintaining our commitment to activating that (Castle) space,” Threshold Arts executive director Naura Anderson said. “But our landlords are still in negotiations. … I’m not even fully aware of what their plans are.”
The council’s decision whether to accept Threshold Arts’ proposal for the long-empty Chateau was delayed Monday, as council member Kelly Kirkpatrick questioned what would happen if the arts organization was allowed back in its original space at the former armory.
Scott Hoss of the Castle Community suggested he is open to seeing Threshold move.
“Threshold could decide -- they’re tenants, they could decide to go somewhere else,” Hoss, Anderon's longtime romantic partner, said. “Obviously, they’re actively seeking the Chateau space as well, so they would have space there.”
Hoss said either Threshold or Echo could occupy the second floor in the future. The other would be restricted to programming on the third floor, he said.
The owners have not made a decision yet.
“I would say all options are on the table,” Hoss said.
Anderson wondered what a Castle Community would look like without Threshold Arts.
“I was heavily involved from ideation, planning, design, and ultimately how the space was activated,” she said. “My involvement was necessary for the successful start of our organization. I’m interested to see what their plans are as well, if they’re not with us.”
The letter of the law
According to the Restrictions of Use in the Executed Development agreement that the Castle Community signed with the city, the owners are required to seek city approval for a substantive change in the property's use within the first five years of ownership.
The Post Bulletin's repeated attempts, dating back to early October, to reach the Castle Community owners by telephone, email and website inquiries were not successful until recently.
Hoss claims that the Castle owners have been in communication with the city about the church’s tenure since September 2020, although they never obtained formal, written approval.
“If they put a 60-day notice on us, we can cure any default,” Hoss said.
The Castle owners are taking the city's Nov. 11 notice under advisement, Hoss said, while talking with the city to see if they can broker a deal that keeps most of the current and former tenants happy. Most of the arts organizations on the second floor have moved on except Threshold Arts, and perhaps Queen City Coffee & Juice, he said.
"I don't know that we've made much progress yet, but we're continuing to talk," Hoss said.
Former city council member Michael Wojcik was part of the city council in 2017 when the Castle Community bought the building from the city.
Whether or not the Castle’s owners are in violation of the contract’s terms, Wojcik said, the church’s current tenure is outside of the spirit of the city’s agreement.
“The intention was very clear,” he said. “This was not what was intended.”
But, he said, it was understood that COVID-19 put the owners in “a terrible situation” back in 2020. Allowing Echo Church to use the building for a calendar year was the owner’s way to ensure the Castle’s survival.
“At this point, I think it’s up to the current council, whether they want to hold their (owners') feet to the fire on what the original agreement was,” he said.
Hoss provided a joint statement from the owners on Nov. 16: “Castle Community is in active talks with the City of Rochester along with all the tenants of the Castle,” it reads. “We remain committed to the vision of the Castle that was presented to the community. The pandemic created some short-term difficulties that we as an ownership group, along with all the tenants, are still trying to navigate.
“There’s a great argument that the use of the entire building, or at least two floors of the building, by a church, is not in the spirit of the development agreement,” Hoss said. “I don’t think anyone believes that to be true. But obviously the world changed drastically, and there were times when we could open the doors. … So the question is, what is viable in that space any longer? With the employees that are no longer frequenting downtown, and the businesses that are leaving and have shut their doors forever, we have to find a viable use that honors the arts and cultural activities that were creating and flourishing prior to our world changing.”
What's next for Threshold?
Anderson said Threshold Arts had crafted its proposal for the Chateau back in 2019, before her organization left the Castle Community. They had intended to have a presence in both buildings, she said.
When asked, she needed a moment to consider whether Threshold Arts wanted to return to the Castle Community.
“We do want to, absolutely,” Anderson decided. “We made it clear that we wanted to return in the capacity that we had had once before. The way negotiations are going and some arrangements they’re trying to make, it doesn’t appear as though … the full terms of our lease will be renewed.”
“We want to be in a space that we can program to its full extent,” she added.
Threshold Arts has maintained the ability to schedule events on the third floor of the Castle Community, but were first constrained by COVID-19 regulations and multiple waves of infection.
They've also been stymied by would-be organizer’s disappointment in the space.
“The overall culture of the building has changed,” Anderson said. “With Echo Church occupying the second floor, it’s not the same experience. It doesn’t have all of the kind of amenities and attractions that it once had. And we’ve heard that was the big appeal of hosting things at the Castle -- it was this really cool place with a lot of things going on.”