When Stephen Snow and Brian Montague opened the Center for New Media and the Arts in 2009 at a historic loft space on the second floor of The Opera House on Greenwood Avenue they had....well....lofty goals.
They hoped to turn the more than 2,000 square foot space – which boasts 15-foot ceilings and 9-foot windows – into a center for the arts in all mediums. They hosted concerts and film screenings, ran an art gallery, offered video production services and even held a New Year's Eve DJ led dance party.
However, despite Montague and Snow's optimism there were many hurdles to overcome. Because it was on the second floor, despite its size, the space was only zoned for 50 people. Montague and Snow hoped to raise funds to add a new fire escape that would have allowed them to host over 250 people but they were never able to raise the necessary funds and by Spring of 2010 the center had closed its doors.
For a time the space was rented out as a private residence. But now the building owners have put the space up for lease again.
“It's kind of an interesting apartment,” said Don Dempsey who owns The Opera house along with business partner Ed Freeman. “It's a good space for somebody in the arts, a painter, or a sculptor or a photographer, because it's all open up there. It's ideal if somebody wanted to live and work there kind of have a gallery and a living space altogether.”
Dempsey added that the owners of the Center for New Media and the Arts “wanted to have a theater kind of situation where there would be hundreds of people but it's not possible for that” because of occupancy constraints. “They knew that going in but they were thinking of modifying it,” he said.
The Opera House was built in the mid 1800s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The loft space is located on the second floor. The building also houses Greenwood's Grill & Ale House. In addition to the giant loft area there is a third floor with a kitchen living area and full bathroom. The space currently up for lease occupies two floors and 3,000 square feet of space total. It is zoned for commercial and residential use. Freeman and Dempsey are asking $2500 a month.
Freeman said that a yoga instructor is seriously looking at the space and considering opening a yoga studio and also teaching some form of gymnastics at the space.
A mix of yoga and gymnastics classes would fit right in with the loft's storied history. According to local lore P.T. Barnum had a silent movie theater there and it served as a vaudeville theater at different points. Mark Twain is also said to have frequented the building when the downstairs was a pool hall.
“Originally it was a public meeting house back in the 1850s and '60s,” Dempsey said. “It was built for a meeting space and it's been many things. Upstairs it's been the gymnasium for the High School before they built the gymnasium. It was a canvas factory – they made knapsacks during World War II. Someone told me it was a roller rink at one point up there. It was an art gallery in 1976 and then in 1981 it was a photo studio. It was a photo studio up until the Center for New Media opened.”
Freeman said there's a lot of interest in the space and it has a lot of potential.
“It could be anything that requires a big space. The only thing it can't be is something that requires a lot of people because the occupancy is limited,” he said. “I think it's the kind of place that could be an office space, like a graphic arts studio maybe, or a ballet studio, perhaps a yoga studio. It sort of lends itself to a studio kind of situation. Its got great light. It's a very bright space with giant windows. It's very airy. It's a great place to work.”