Philly Fringe festival founder Nick Stuccio is standing in a 10,000-square-foot shell across from Race Street Pier, nearly under the Ben Franklin Bridge. The windows are huge open holes. Construction debris and hard-hatted workers abound. Pipes and wires jut out here and there, and birds fly up near the structure’s 30-foot ceilings.
But according to Stuccio (right), this desolate 1903 pumping station will be transformed into a 240-seat theater by September 1st. As in, this September 1st. “I gave myself a five-day cushion,” jokes Stuccio, standing amid piles of rubble. (His annual fest doesn’t start until September 6th.) “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
The $7 million FringeArts, as the building will be known, is to be a year-round performance space and bar/restaurant, although even wide-eyed Stuccio realizes that the food-service portion won’t be done by September. The festival, which has for years been known as the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, will (thankfully) share the building’s more succinct name.
Stuccio’s need for a dedicated space is a result of Old City’s development success. Back in 1997, when he started the festival, there were plenty of large, unoccupied buildings in the neighborhood that he was able to use on the cheap. “We had the run of Old City,” he remembers. But as years passed and the festival grew in scope and popularity, thereby increasing his need for space, the number of available spots dwindled as real estate boomed. It took about five years to find the right location and seal the deal.
Once the full project reaches completion—Stuccio says to expect the restaurant component by early 2014 and outdoor plaza sometime this fall—the result will be unlike anything Philadelphia has seen. “This is going to be the juncture of artistic activity and a really fun social spot, with incredible views and outdoor space,” he promises. “It’s arts culture meets social culture. Plus, our location is marginal enough that we can play loud music and not disturb people.”
Update [3:20 p.m., 6/6/2013]: A few hours after publishing this article online, I received the following email from FringeArts:
FringeArts announced today that the official start of operations in its new Delaware River waterfront headquarters is now projected for early October 2013.
“We had originally hoped to open in time to program some Festival events in our new building during our 2013 Fringe Festival,” said FringeArts president and producing director Nick Stuccio. “However, we will better serve our artists and audiences by giving ourselves more time to put the polish on the finishing touches before we open the theater.”
Stuccio further noted that due to the success of its capital campaign fundraising efforts, FringeArts has combined what was originally intended to be two phases of construction into one phase. Phase 2 work, including replacing all windows and restoring the building’s exterior façade, is expected to be completed by the beginning of operations in early October. Remaining work, including a bar, restaurant and an outdoor plaza, is anticipated to be complete by spring 2014.
2013 Festival events will be held, as has been the tradition for 18 years, in venues all over the city from September 5 to 22. When the new building begins operations, it is scheduled to feature a full slate of performances (soon to be announced) through December 2013 and beyond. In spring 2014, once the building’s bar, restaurant and outdoor plaza are complete, FringeArts will host an official Grand Opening celebration to showcase the 10,000-square-foot space’s 240-seat theater, rehearsal and creation studio, permanent festival hub, outdoor plaza, bar, restaurant and administrative offices.
Below, photos of the FringeArts work-in-progress as of June 4th:
[STUCCIO PHOTO: Jauhien Sasnou, FRINGEARTS PHOTOS: Camilla Brandfield-Harvey]
A version of this story originally appeared in the June issue of Philadelphia magazine.