Friday, March 14 – Performing Arts Center Pitched for Old Cannery Site

BERLIN – The old cannery in Berlin might become Worcester County’s first performing arts center, a supporter of the project told the Berlin Town Council Monday night.

A non-profit committee to create that venue in northern Worcester County has identified Berlin as the ideal location for the 450-seat performing arts center, committee member Peck Miller informed the Berlin Town Council Monday night.

“It’s a work in progress right now,” Miller said.

The committee spent 18 months looking at regional performing arts centers, assessing strengths and defects, before looking into sites in northern Worcester County. While the committee is looking at other sites, the cannery site, adjacent to the Cannery Village workforce housing project, is the number one choice.

“We’re looking at doing a renovation there,” said Miller.

The historic building is right off Route 113 and has adequate parking already. A traffic study would be performed during the design phase. The performing arts center will be open to all.

“We envision all different levels of the community could be involved,” said Miller.

The venue would host choral performances, dance recitals, plays, concerts and even national acts.

“There’s a possibility it won’t be at this facility,” Miller said. “There’s no question we’d like to have a performing arts center in northern Worcester County near Berlin.”

The committee is also looking at property on Route 50. Town officials said, however, there were certain challenges with any site chosen in the Berlin area.

“Sewer is an immediate concern in Berlin,” warned council member Paula Lang.

The performing arts center concept is in the very early stages, said Miller. A non-profit committee has been established, and Michael Day, the Main St. program coordinator, is looking into grants to defray some costs.

Funding has not yet been secured. Worcester County plans to fund the project, but county funding depends on the county budget. This year, the commissioners have said, money will be tight.

The committee will ask Worcester County for architectural and consulting fees this budget, Miller said, with plans to purchase and renovate the cannery building or another site in the future.

The building is now home to the New Beginnings Covenant Ministries church. According to Miller, Pastor Daryl Butts plans to move to a larger location that can accommodate a 1,000 person congregation.

“I’d just like to be clear before the town supports something like this,” said Council member Elroy Brittingham, concerned about the performing arts center’s effect on the church.

Two years ago, the Worcester County Commissioners commissioned a study on the economic viability of a performing arts center. The study determined that a performance venue would benefit the county financially. A performing arts center should bring more business into the area, Miller said.

“I think it would be a natural complement to the town,” said town council vice president Gee Williams.

Mayor Tom Cardinale agreed. “It’s exciting to have the possibility of something like that tied into the arts and entertainment district,” he said.

No design work has been done, but Miller showed the meeting artist’s renderings of the renovated cannery building inside and out.

“I really have to congratulate you on this concept,” Cardinale said. “The concept is outstanding.”

The town council agreed to write a letter of support for a performing arts center in the Berlin area, although they balked at supporting the specific site at the cannery.