DDA contributes to $2M St. Cecilia Music Center project


Officials say they strive to maintain the historic feel of Saint Cecilia, which has been in continuous operation for 132 years. Courtesy Saint Cecilia Music Center

An iconic music building has hit a high note after receiving support from a downtown development agency for its renovation initiative.

St. Cecilia Music Center is adhering to its mission of supporting the appreciation and study of music by investing in a series of renovation and refurbishing projects estimated at nearly $2 million for the historic 1884 building at 24 Ransom Ave. NE.

Catherine Holbrook, executive director, said the series of upgrades will refresh the historic building, add energy efficiency, allow for an expansion in rental programs, and enhance the quality of the experience for concert-goers.

“We certainly feel it is a treasure within the downtown community and within the West Michigan region because it is one of the oldest performing arts organizations; it is the oldest performing arts organization with continuous operations for 132 years,” said Holbrook. “We definitely feel maintaining this historic facility is part of this organization’s mission.”

Although the renovation project is still within its silent campaign phase, some initial work already has been done for updating the building. Holbrook said one project began last May when the center replaced its roof.

St. Cecilia received approval for a $35,000 Building Reuse Incentive Program grant from the Downtown Development Authority last week to offset the costs of a number of capital improvements, such as installing a new barrier-free entrance and equipment and a new elevator lift to the stage level, making repairs to the existing second means of egress, and streetscape improvements along Ransom Avenue.

The incentive program is an economic development tool to support rehabilitations or improvements to downtown buildings built before 1950 — up to $50,000 or no more than 50 percent of the total project cost.

Carla Messing, facility and event director at St. Cecilia Music Center, indicated during the Feb. 10 DDA meeting that the scope of the project is actually much larger than the B.R.I.P request. The center’s current funding sources are primarily from community support and income from renting out the facility to the community.

Holbrook said the B.R.I.P. grant specifically will help pay for the projects put forward in the proposal and allows for the center to move forward with the improvements.

“We are in the process of garnering community support for a lot of these projects,” said Holbrook. “For some potential donors, it would be important to note the city had helped fund some of this project and is behind what we were doing … and supporting the oldest performing arts facility in the city.”

The overall cost of the project is anticipated to reach nearly $2 million and will include installing a new HVAC system, replacing the seats in the auditorium, putting audiovisual technology in various rooms, installing a new sound system, and renovating the entire first floor of the building.

“We just did some work on our Tiffany window, which had a whole cleaning and overhaul and LED lighting behind it so we can see it even in the evening,” said Holbrook. “(We’re) also working on renovating our ‘green room,’ where the artists would be in the building when they are here for concerts, and refurbishing some of the really old panels.”

By the end of the renovation project, even the hundreds-of-years-old Steinway pianos will be completely rebuilt.

“It’s a whole process — sort of building a new piano but keeping the beautiful ornate carpentry work on it,” said Holbrook.

St. Cecilia Music Center was built in 1884 by a women’s music club known as the St. Cecilia Society. For more than 130 years, the recital hall has promoted music by attracting internationally renowned musical artists and offering musical education for all ages.

By keeping the historic facility in prime performance condition, Holbrook said the benefits to the community include additional uses for the facility due to technology improvements, a more comfortable listening experience for the audience, and increased handicap accessibility.

“It is going to elevate our status, I think, in the community in terms of it is a historic facility that has a unique aspect about it that it is still just beautiful and in top working order,” said Holbrook. “It is not like an old place — it’s a new place with this old history.”

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