by Whitney Joseph
“I’m so excited about this,” said resident and business association organizer Darrah Cloud, who was among the dozens of people at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, April 22. “To have this building fixed up and lots of projects going on in Pine Plains takes faith.”
The building in question is Memorial Hall, a 1915 Second Empire-style architectural gem of beautiful brick that graces Church Street, just west of the main intersection in town.
Last year three men purchased Memorial Hall; they now plan on reopening it as a performing arts venue for Dutchess, Columbia and Ulster counties. Those men — Jack Banning, Ariel Schlein and Christian Eisenbeiss, known also as S.E.B. Holdings Management, LLC — have begun their renovations with the opening of the Pine Plains Laundromat in the rear of the building. What was once a regular stop for vaudeville and minstrel shows, not to mention home to a coffee shop, hair salon, offices and a previous laundromat, will take major investment to reinvent. But Banning said it’s a challenge he’s looking forward to.
“We hope we can provide something everybody finds useful,” he said, adding the threesome was “very lucky” to buy the building at the affordable price of $199,000 last May.
“I’m emotional,” Banning said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This is nothing in one sense, yet it’s kind of a big deal.”
Banning said he was thrilled to offer something around which the community could rally. It’s a community, he said, that welcomed him and his wife when they arrived roughly 10 years ago.
“This town has been wonderful to us,” he said. “It really makes you feel good.”
All of those involved with the laundromat project share that sense of camaraderie and good will. Many of them did the work pro-bono or at cost. Billy Bartolomeo, who formerly was one of the building’s owner, did much of the construction.
“It gives me great pleasure to see this turn out, and I couldn’t be more happy helping out with this project,” he said. “I’m just excited about it. It was hard to believe that it was going to reopen again. We worked on it continuously.”
The sparkling white laundromat includes 10 washers, 10 dryers and one large commercial washing machine. It’s up to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and open for business everyday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“It’s a good day for Pine Plains, but it’s just the start of great plans for the entire building and revitalization for the town,” said Memorial Hall Executive Director Brian Keeler.
And getting from a vacant building to one with a functioning laundromat didn’t take nearly as long as some might have expected, according to town Supervisor Brian Coons.
“The process at Town Hall was very short,” he said. “And not just because all members of the Planning Board were for the project. It was what the people of Pine Plains wanted, and we should appreciate that.”
Coons added that the laundromat is just the first step in a journey toward revitalizing the town’s business district.
“We have great plans for the building and for more buildings in town,” he said. “Hopefully everybody will get on board.”
Coons continued after the grand-opening ceremony.
“We’re making our town center economically viable, and we’re starting with the revitalization here,” he said, adding a country store and barber shop are in the works. “I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve had a laundromat — at least 10 years — and it’s a service that’s needed and that’s an important thing to provide for local people.
“To adapt and reuse space is important,” he added. “The rest of the building will be used for a performing arts center — that’s perfect.”
To reach that goal the owners of Memorial Hall will have to raise some cash; according to Banning they’re hoping to fundraise about $3.5 million. Money is also going to be generated by the laundromat itself, added Keeler.
“We are well on our way to 503(c)(3) nonprofit status for the renovation and operation of the building,” he said, “and what is especially generous is that the laundromat proceeds will go to the nonprofit to help fund some of the renovation.”