Au Sable Forks landmark focus of plans

Part-time residents consider options
Rebecca Kelly and Craig Brashear, who spend their summers in Silver Lake, are hoping to turn Tahawus Lodge 790 building into a new community cultural center. Its where we come, so we see the building all the time. It just sits there looking empty, but a few years ago we started to think about a dance studio and what might go on, said Kelly. Brashear and Kelly direct the Rebecca Kelly Ballet, a 28-year-old professional ballet incorporated under the name Appleby Foundation, Inc. The 501(c)3, not-for-profit is based in SoHo, New York City. The couple has spent the past year in exploratory conversations with the Au Sable Forks Main Street Revitalization group, the town supervisor, the planning board, the Masons and business persons and residents from the community on the Tahawus Project. Kelly said the multi-use center would focus on commerce, education, history and culture. The Tahawus Center would provide a place to foster a community for the arts, preserving and exhibiting the area history, and form partnerships with other art organizations, schools and businesses. The goal of Kelly and Brashear is to create a self-sustained building through a mix of commercial rents and non-profit activities, such as education and art outreach programs and area history and cultural activities. The project, slated to cost $1 million, would take place over a three-year period. Brashear said funds could be raised by the nonprofit Appleby Foundation, along with grant sources. Brashear said they were working on getting an engineering study for structure, which would include interior redesign. The building is currently not handicap-accessible, and may need work on flooding remediation since the Au Sable River flows directly next to it. Kelly said green energy sources would be part of the plan. The first open town meeting was held in December 2007. Kelly said more open discussions with people in Au Sable Forks would take place over the summer to collect ideas about what to do with the structure. Fundraisers would also be on the agenda. A Web site to facilitate communication will soon be set up. Rebecca Kelly Ballet has also been artists-in-residence in many North Country communities for the past 20 years. Brashear and Kelly had previous experience in renovating underused space, having created a dance studio in SoHo. The couple hopes the creation of a community arts center would foster cultural partnerships between the Northern Adirondacks region and New York City. Dwindling membership affects Masons
The 123-year-old The Tahawus Lodge 790 is facing a crisis of membership. There are currently 27 members of the lodge, many of them in their eighties. Maintaining the current lodge structure is a huge challenge, which had led to the Masons interest in selling the building. We're finding it difficult to maintain it members are dwindling, and with the cost of fuel as it is, we go dark in the winter. Its a real financial drain, said Joe DeMarco, treasurer of the lodge. Lodge secretary Lewis Gordon said the organization had applied for a grant in 2003 to renovate the structure, but failed to secure funding. The building is one of the oldest on Au Sable Forks Main Street. In 1911, the land was purchased by the Masons and a three-story building with a full basement was created. The first meeting was held Jan. 10, 1912. That year, the U.S. Post Office moved into the ground floor and occupied it until 1963, while the Adirondack Record Post moved into the basement and occupied it until 1975. The Masonic Lodge, with its concrete siding, was the only building left standing on its side of the street after a disastrous fire 1925, decimating 90 percent of Main Street. In the late 1970s, after two failed businesses who had occupied the ground floor had moved out and with the basement empty, the Masons decided against renting the building. The lodges meeting room, originally located on the top floor, was shifted to the first floor in 1982. The top two floors are currently empty, and in need of interior repair. Gordon said the structure was still sound. The building is currently assessed at $85,000. DeMarco and Gordon said the lodge has been offered space in the Jay Community Center to hold their meetings if the building is sold. Town officials aim to help efforts
Jay Supervisor Randall Douglas said government officials were aiming to help with the Rebecca Kelly Ballets plans. The town is hoping to also seek government grants to help with the project. We're trying to reach out and find ways we can help them in their plans to put a dance studio, said Douglas. Douglas said having the building revitalized was a high priority, since the building was prominent on Main Street. Having it in use would help with the hamlets economy. As soon as you come into Essex County, it's the first building you see, said Douglas.

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