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Palace Theatre Changing Leaders



TimesUnion.com

The Palace Theatre's executive director, Holly Brown, is stepping down at the end of this month at a time when the historic venue is at the onset of an ambitious renovation and expansion plan, and has recently been embroiled in city politics over its ownership.

She will be succeeded by Susan Rosko Fogarty, who worked for more than 25 years in the arts and banking and most recently was a senior executive with Capital District YMCA.

Brown served five years at the top post during a period which the Palace doubled the number of events it hosted and increased attendance by 40 percent.

"It has been my privilege and my pleasure to run this beautiful and beloved theater," Brown said in a statement accompanying the announcement of her resignation. "There is a saying in this industry that you are only as good as 'what walks on the stage'. My goal has been to not only increase the number of event nights at the theater, but to bring in some of the biggest names in the business," she said.

Brown arrived at the Palace in September 2011, hired as its general manager. She stepped up to the top position, executive director, the following summer. In addition to growing audiences and the performance calendar, Brown guided the institution, which had long suffered financially, from six-figure annual deficits to budget surpluses during each of the five years she was in charge. Its annual budget, about $1.5 million in 2012, is now about $2.7 million.

"Under Holly's direction, the Palace ... is known for its diverse, outstanding and high-caliber programming, which has translated into financial success," Alan Goldberg, chairman of the Palace's board of directors, said in a statement.

Brown said Wednesday she told the Palace board some months that she was beginning to consider other opportunities. She said she did not know that a quiet search was begun for a replacement.

"I've been really happy with the way the Palace has evolved over the last few years, ... and since it is getting ready to enter its next phase of life, it was time for me to move on," she said in a phone interview. She said she is exploring job opportunities locally and nationwide.

Fogarty worked in the music business for 17 years, including with Sony/BMG, and in vice-presidential positions for a decade with Bank of America, HSBC and Key Private Bank, according to the Palace announcement.

"It is truly an honor to have the opportunity to build upon the work of Holly Brown and her leadership team," Fogarty said in a statement.

Fogarty becomes executive director at a critical time in the development of the 2,800-seat Palace. The venue, built in 1931, closed in 1969 after decades of postwar stagnation and was taken over by the city for use as a civic auditorium. A nonprofit entity, the Palace Performing Arts Center Inc., was created in 1984 to revive the theater and has run it since, leasing the building from the city.

In July of last year the Palace unveiled an ambitious renovation and expansion plan with a $65 million price tag but no money raised toward the effort upon its announcement. In the 15 months since, there has been no launch of a fundraising campaign, a multimillion-dollar state grant to jump-start the project was denied, and the theater endured a bitter battle between Mayor Kathy Sheehan's administration and some members of the city's Common Council over transfer of ownership from the city to the Palace nonprofit. Owning the building is essential in order to move forward with expansion plans, theater officials have said.

The council voted in March to approve the sale. Theater officials have proposed paying $750,000 over 30 years for the property, saying the figure, after taking into account $4.2 million in repairs and maintenance necessary to the current structure, strikes a balance between the values assigned by two appraisals conducted last year: $650,000 and $1.1 million.

A Sheehan spokesman said Wednesday contract negotiations continue and the sale has not been finalized.

The Palace expansion was included in a list of projects announced last week that the local Regional Economic Development Council is seeking state funds to support. The Palace request is for $2.5 million, which would go toward a $29 million first phase that would increase accessibility for disabled patrons, provide stage updates and add a loading dock, according to the proposal. The Palace was turned down for a $4.2 million REDC grant last year.

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