There is an old adage about how promises are easy to make and hard to keep. The story of Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs and Teddy Foster is about a promise made long ago finally delivered nearly two decades later.

“We started this project in 2000 with a promise to the public that it would be done by 2006,” says Foster of the effort to transform a historic downtown Saratoga church—that had been declared unsafe and condemned by the city in 1999—into a modern performing arts venue.

“We kind of missed that goal a little bit,” Foster says, laughing, “but I’m actually thrilled because it will at least be done before the 20-year mark. So that’s a good thing, right?”

Foster, who is campaign director at UPH, says that for more than a decade it was a relatively small circle of people who recognized the potential in the effort to renovate UPH. The building had been built as a Methodist-Episcopal Church in 1871, and in 1976, the Universal Baptist Church took ownership of the building.

Real momentum in the community began in 2012 when talks with Proctors CEO Philip Morris led to a 2015 agreement with the Schenectady-based organization to manage and complete the restoration of the fledgling venue.  

“When we decided to move forward with Proctors, we had meetings with many community leaders who had never supported our efforts with the building. Thanks to our alignment with Proctors, they realized that a completed UPH with programming done by Proctors could become a very successful, year-round venue and fill a gap in downtown Saratoga,” Foster reminisces. “They supported us, not only with their funds but also with their influence which gave me leverage with other people to raise money.”

Construction on a $5.5 million renovation began in September, and a public campaign to close the final gap in fundraising was launched in December. “We really need to raise another $300,000 to $500,000, and we’re still actively trying to do this,” she says.

In addition to capital campaign support, Foster is busy garnering participation in other ways. “I think it’s really important for people to support us as they have before by looking at our programming when we start to announce, buying tickets, helping us spread the word and attending our fundraisers.”

“We’re also going to need many volunteers who can act in the capacity of ushers, bartenders, servers and people movers because UPH will be holding at least 700 people every night for an event,” she adds. “And with 200-plus nights of programming a year, we’re going to need a lot of friendly faces there to welcome people and show them the UPH love!”

Beyond the effort to save a historic building and provide the community with world-class entertainment, the doors will be open for youth to participate in workshops and productions by the Proctors School of the Performing Arts, the region’s largest educational institution of its kind. And Foster anticipates UPH will collaborate with other arts organizations to co-produce events across the region such as festivals and multi-venue series.

“When Elizabeth Sobol came and took over at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in 2016, first thing I said to her was, ‘We have to get arts organizations collaborating with each other because that’s the only way we’re going to really do the good that we want to do. We can start it here in Saratoga,’” says Foster.

“So, I see much future collaboration among Caffe Lena, SPAC, UPH, Yaddo and the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College. And all that collaboration will absolutely elevate the arts to unprecedented heights in Saratoga and the entire Capital Region.”

The impact on Saratoga Springs will include a significant economic one. Projections from the Center for Economic Growth in Albany are that UPH will generate $6.2 million in construction-related spending locally, and once open it will generate a $2.2 million boost to the economy and attract 65,000 people annually to downtown Saratoga. Foster also sees UPH programming adding to the Saratoga’s quality of life, helping attract new residents of the many developments around a downtown and a city that have each been cited nationally as among the best in America.  

So, Foster’s promise has been kept and the vision is becoming reality.

“I want to make it great for the people of Saratoga, and that’s always been my motivation,” she concludes. “I think that anybody that lives here, or in the surrounding area, or visits our beautiful city is going to benefit so greatly from it. It’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be wonderful.”

Proctors publishes The Collaborative. All content under the Proctors Collaborative banner is penned by Proctors staff.