AUBURN — Auburn Public Theater is hoping for an early Christmas present.
The downtown theater is awaiting word from the state on a $600,000 Consolidated Funding Application it submitted earlier this year. The state will make the announcement at its regional economic development council awards ceremony sometime this month. And for theater Executive Director Carey Eidel and Artistic Director Angela Daddabbo, that announcement can't come soon enough.
That's because the $600,000 would support the next expansion of Eidel and Daddabbo's theater: Café Einstein.
The café will be located at the corner of Genesee and Exchange streets, which is currently the office of lawyer Dennis Sedor. It will be a for-profit business that pays rent and donates to Auburn Public Theater. Daddabbo said she and Eidel modeled the café, and its relationship to their nonprofit theater, after Café at 407 in Liverpool, which supports eating disorder treatment center Ophelia's Place.
The café will neighbor the theater's Stage Right performance space and be separated by a collapsible or curtained glass wall, Daddabbo said. Consulting on its menu and other matters will be Daddabbo's brother and theater board member Tony Daddabbo, who's done the same for high-end restaurants in New York City and Las Vegas — as well as Mesa Grande Taqueria in central New York, which is owned by his and Angela's brother Jim. Angela said the café will serve standard fare like coffee, tea, sandwiches and wraps, and that it will not have a license to sell alcohol.
Daddabbo believes the streetside café will not only give Auburn Public Theater a dependable stream of income, but increased visibility and accessibility.
"Getting a burger or a sandwich or a salad, or grabbing a bottle of water or a cup of tea, is a much easier entry point to a business than spending $35 on a 'Calamari Sisters' ticket," she said. "We feel like that food piece is going to offer the kind of final democratic solution to getting people who might not think this space is for them to just cross the threshold."
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But the café is just one part of the theater's next expansion. As Eidel and Daddabbo open the business, taking over the last remaining space on the building's first floor, they also plan to renovate its 13,000-square-foot basement. Its only current tenant is public access station Auburn Regional Media Access, Daddabbo said, and the station takes up about 1,000 square feet.
The rest of the finished basement, Daddabbo said, will be available for additional programming or rental by the community.
For instance, the space will allow the theater to book concerts for standing audiences again, she said. It could when the theater opened in 2005, but not after it was remodeled into its current Stage Right and Main Stage performance spaces, both of which are seated. Daddabbo said Trumansburg rock band Donna the Buffalo will be "the first phone call we make" to perform at the new space.
Among the other uses for the space, Daddabbo said, could be weddings. Citing data that Cayuga County venues are booked to capacity during the summer, she said Auburn Public Theater could meet some of that demand. She suggested a couple could even be married on the Main Stage — where the audience would enjoy the angled view — and hold their reception in the finished basement.
The total budget for the theater's basement and cafe projects is $1.2 million. They would have begun together in January if Auburn was awarded $10 million in the state's Downtown Revitalization Initiative contest this summer, as the projects were part of the city's proposal. Now, Daddabbo said, funding will determine when they begin, and whether they do so together. Another priority is Sedor's comfort with relocating his office, she said. Though he has agreed to let the theater buy out his lease, she continued, he'll need at least six months' notice before he has to move.
Regardless, Daddabbo said, Auburn Public Theater will reach its next stage, one that she and Eidel have envisioned since they bought the former Grant's Department Store almost 15 years ago.
"These plans of ours are written into the DNA of our organization," she said. "It was part of the original plan, and you can see it in the original drawings. It just took longer to get the funding than we thought. Everything took longer than we thought, as it is in life."