Theater owner has eye on May
PITTSFIELD -- The entrepreneur working to revive the former Berkshire
Public Theater said yesterday that the project remains on track for
an opening by Memorial Day.
Raymond D. Schilke said he has spent $45,000 to date removing rubbish
from the Union Street theater, which ceased operating in 1995, and
renovating the Octagon House next door for administrative offices.
The plan is to start renovations to the theater next month and to
reopen the doors to the public in late May.
An open house tentatively is planned for next month in the theater
"I'm anxious to get started," said Schilke, who has coined a new
name -- Berkshire Music Hall -- for the downtown venue.
The owner of a sound production company in New Paltz, N.Y., Schilke
purchased the theater and Octagon House last October for $160,000.
The sale and renovations are being financed by Greylock Federal
$500,000 outlay expected
Schilke expects to spend up to $500,000 to renovate both buildings.
He hopes to pay for some labor and materials "out of pocket" and is
applying for a Small Business Administration loan for larger jobs,
one of which is to install air conditioning in the theater. Bids are
presently being sought to repair the tin ceiling.
Meanwhile, Schilke is gradually restoring the eight-sided Octagon
House. "The heat's on and the electric -- I've got a phone," he said
yesterday. "It's very civilized."
Schilke's vision for the theater is to restore it for theatrical and
musical performances and second-run movies. He wants to both host and
occasionally produce events, operating the facility through the
summer and into the holiday season.
The new name reflects what is expected to be a predominance of music
over theater. "We probably will be doing more music than theater
because I think there's a fair amount of theater being done locally,"
With orchestra and balcony levels, the theater could seat up to 800
people. Schilke also wants to build eight to 10 dressing rooms at the
Early last year, Schilke withdrew a proposal to build a 300-seat
theater behind his Ins & Outs Inc. sound equipment and recording
studio in New Paltz.
He told the Daily Freeman of Kingston, N.Y., that he spent $22,000
over 14 months on legal, architectural and engineering fees, but lost
patience when the town's zoning board, among other requests, sought a
wildlife study to determine the effect of car headlights on nocturnal
"I will consider any town that would welcome an idea and not give me
such a hard time," he told the newspaper last February.
In Pittsfield, which has had its own issues with business owners and
developers, Schilke has retained Bradley Architects Inc. to assist
with the permitting process. Since he is renovating a building that
already has been used as a theater, he doesn't anticipate running
into the same problems that torpedoed his earlier project.
Schilke said he has discussed with Mayor James M. Ruberto the biggest
potential hitch -- finding nearby parking spaces.
"We're not changing the use of the building. It's a continued use,"
he said. "The only issue we may have, and I've spoken to the mayor
about it, is the parking. [Ruberto] understands it's something
Pittsfield should respond to. I'm pretty confident he's going to work
As recently as yesterday, discussions on the possibility of joint
production this summer have taken place between Schilke and the
leadership of the $15 million Colonial Theatre restoration. The
latter theater on South Street is being readied for a hoped-for
reopening in late 2005 or 2006.
While cautioning that some "big maybes" remain, Susan Sperber,
executive director of the Colonial Theatre Association, said, "We're
both very excited about it, and I think it's a right statement to
make to the city that we're collaborating."
The possibility of partnering with the Colonial on a production
is "very exciting," Schilke said. " It shows we're working to-gether."