Prophecy Hall Clears Hurdles

Betty Wall stands on a sidewalk between the River Ridge townhouses and the Prophecy Hall site to show proximity. Photos by J. Simms

Betty Wall stands on a sidewalk between the River Ridge townhouses and the Prophecy Hall site to show proximity. (Photos by J. Simms)

Beacon event venue, hotel and cafe appears close 

After more than two years and dozens of hours in front of the Planning Board, the Prophecy Hall project at 1113 Wolcott Ave. (Route 9D) in Beacon is nearing approval. 

Planning Board members on Tuesday (July 11) approved a “negative declaration” indicating that the project will not adversely affect the environment. Board members also said the project, which proposes an event center, hotel and restaurant at the former Reformed Church of Beacon, is consistent with the city’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. 

The board could vote on the remaining hurdles — site-plan approval and a special-use permit, which is required for event venues in that area — next month.

Much has changed about the project since it was introduced in 2021 as an event space that on “rare occasions” would host up to 500 attendees. It has been scaled back several times since then and now, if approved, will have a maximum capacity of 150. (By comparison, the Howland Cultural Center on Main Street seats 125 people for concerts. When the Reformed Church was open, it had a capacity of 336.)

There will be no events on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Programs on Thursdays and Sundays must end by 7:30 p.m. and, on Fridays and Saturdays, they will end by 8:30 p.m. 

Gavin Hecker, a Beacon resident and one of the property owners, said Wednesday that the 500-capacity number got blown out of proportion after the project was introduced to the Planning Board and he and his partners have been playing catch-up ever since. In reality, the larger events would have generated income that Prophecy could use to put on the smaller productions that he’s more interested in, such as theater or art exhibitions, Hecker said. 

“When you want to present arts, it’s a struggle,” he said. “One of the pathways we had to that was the ability to do larger events on occasion. But this is not a project for people who want to maximize profit. It’s more of a passion.” 

Much has also been said over the last two years about music at the site. The Planning Board has received many comments from residents concerned about late-night traffic snarls on Route 9D or drunken concertgoers wandering into one of the four residential developments that surround the church. 

Hecker says there could definitely be music at Prophecy Hall. It could be chamber music or rock  ’n’  roll, “but this is not at all going to be a rock ’n’ roll venue,” he said. 

Clear “acoustic glass” will be installed over the church’s stained glass windows (which will remain) to help eliminate noise “leakage.” The project’s most recent submission to the Planning Board indicates that signs will be posted on the property stating: “Residential quiet zone. Please be respectful.” 

A wooden acoustic, noise-blocking fence will also be erected along the boundary of the West End Lofts, an apartment complex to the north of the church. A 4-foot black metal fence will separate the site from River Ridge, a townhouse development just south of the church. (The View and Hammond Plaza, both condominium developments, are its neighbors on Beekman Street.) 

Earlier this year, a noise consultant hired by Prophecy testified during a Planning Board meeting that sounds generated within the church building or on the deck that will be built at its rear will comply with Beacon’s daytime noise standards — but not everyone is convinced. 

Shelley Simmons-Bloom points to the historic but overgrown cemetery behind the Prophecy site.

Shelley Simmons-Bloom points to the historic but overgrown cemetery behind the Prophecy site.

Shelley Simmons-Bloom and Betty Wall live in The View and River Ridge complexes, respectively, both a stone’s throw from the Reformed Church. Last year, they and their neighbors collected signatures from more than 350 residents who said they were concerned about safety, noise, parking, traffic and Prophecy Hall’s hours of operation. 

“If it was anything other than an event space, we could see it working,” Simmons-Bloom said this week. She said that, according to the noise consultant, she’ll be undisturbed by evening events if she keeps her windows closed, “but I don’t think that’s fair.” 

While Hecker and his partners downsized their plans due to the feedback generated during a nearly yearlong public hearing, Simmons-Bloom and Wall fear the project may skirt its lower capacity by holding multiple events per day. 

On Tuesday, Prophecy proposed a 90-minute break to allow traffic to clear between events with more than 100 attendees. Planning Board members countered that, recommending a two-hour break between events, regardless of size. 

The majority of the public feedback on the project has been negative, but not all of it. Donna Mikkelsen, a West End Lofts resident, asked the Planning Board in an email in April to consider the historical significance of the Reformed Church building, which was built in 1859 and designed by famed architect Frederick Clarke Withers. 

“It is very sad that the church could not maintain it, but how fortunate we are as a community to have a willing custodian with a great concept to maintain and sustain that building,” Mikkelsen wrote. “That building needs to be maintained and I cannot think of a better use of the building than for art.”

Simmons-Bloom said that she and Wall and other neighbors aren’t opposed to the idea of an event space, hotel and cafe — during daytime business hours. It’s the nighttime hours that concern them. 

“If you look around, there’s no other businesses” on this stretch of 9D, Simmons-Bloom said. “There’s no commercial activity in this area. We don’t want to be living somewhere where we have to keep our windows shut all the time.”

Parking has been another concern. There will be 33 parking spaces on-site, and project officials have said in Planning Board meetings that they will also rely on spaces at the nearby Tompkins Hose firehouse and City Hall lots, and on-street along Beekman Street. On Tuesday, a traffic analyst said that Prophecy will need 63 spaces during peak hours. 

There are still a handful of details to be confirmed. For events geared toward children and teenagers, Prophecy has proposed having vehicles wait in a nearby municipal parking lot as attendees exit the site. 

An outdoor smoking area must be designated, and Hecker has said he will contact a cemetery restoration expert to guide rehabilitation of the historic but overgrown cemetery behind the church. 

The Planning Board is expected to write into its approval a provision allowing its consultants to review Prophecy’s operations after it is up and running, likely after six to 12 months. 

If the project is approved, only church events, such as worship services or weddings, will be allowed while the parsonage is being converted to a 30-room hotel. Once it is constructed, other events will be allowed inside the church. 

The exterior of the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be unchanged, Hecker said. Inside, the church pews may be repurposed to create space for performances. 

Still, with approval on the horizon for Prophecy Hall, opinions are split. Hecker says that he and his partners have gone “above and beyond” to hear residents’ concerns and to attempt to mitigate them. Significant support for the project has been drowned out by the louder voices of dissent, he said. 

“It’s going to be a good thing for the community,” Hecker said. “I believe that in every way.”

Wall, one of the neighbors at River Ridge, said that she hopes the project has been scaled back enough “to where people can live in peace.”

8 thoughts on “Prophecy Hall Clears Hurdles

  1. The Prophecy Hall entertainment venue does not belong in a quiet residential neighborhood. Having sat through two years of Planning Board meetings and public hearings, I am disheartened to see that the board has voted to approve a “negative declaration,” indicating that the board believes the project will not adversely affect the environment.

    There is still a vote to come for the special permit and site plan. The City of Beacon ordinance states that in order to approve a special permit, the project will not be more objectionable to nearby properties by reason of noise, fumes, vibration or other characteristic than would be the operations of any permitted use, not requiring a special permit.

    A reasonable person can clearly see that this project will significantly and permanently harm our quiet residential neighborhood. Prophecy Hall has said that they will restore both the historic church and cemetery. They use this as a “selling point” for their project. In the two years that they have owned the property, it has fallen into even greater disrepair, and they have yet to specify any detailed plans for restoration. This lack of maintenance indicates to me that they will not be good neighbors.

    I implore both the city and the Planning Board to carefully consider the upcoming vote. Approval will be devastating for our neighborhood. If this project is approved, it will be setting a dangerous precedent, putting an entertainment venue in a quiet residential neighborhood in a historic building. What would be next? Converting the Rose Hill Manor Day School into a comedy club?

    Yes, I live next door to the proposed project, so I will be among the 400 nearby residents who will be significantly damaged by this project. And yes, I have a vested interest. But then again, who would want a next-door venue with multiple events of 150 attendees each, being dropped off and picked up every Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Wolcott Avenue traffic is already backed up for a mile on the weekend)?

    • I agree. I am dismayed that the Planning Board has turned its backs on the hundreds of Beacon residents that have voiced quality-of-life negative impact and has instead leaned upon narrowly approved “professional” studies. I am still waiting to hear what the project is bringing to Beacon that we don’t already have successfully in our community. The delusion of parking availability, noise abatement and the non-disruption to the quality of life of residents is apparent. Assessing a situation after it’s approved sounds confusing?

  2. I live close to the proposed Prophecy Theater project and want to be clear that I would not oppose it if I lived on Main Street (Beacon’s business district), and Prophecy Theater was trying to open its concert hall/event space there. However, I live in a residential building in a residentially zoned district; a building approved by the City of Beacon Planning Board.

    If the Planning Board disregards the obvious adverse impacts this project would have on its neighbors and finds a way to greenlight it, it would effectively be throwing the residents of this quiet residential section of Beacon under the proverbial bus while sending a clear message that the City of Beacon elevates the rights of inappropriate and disruptive businesses over those of its tax-paying residents. Perhaps most alarming is the precedent that would be set if Prophecy Theater is given the go-ahead. What would stop other similar businesses from opening in our residential neighborhoods?

  3. The idea that this is a “quiet residential area” of Beacon is a joke. This building is in the middle of Route 9D, a major thoroughfare that has many businesses in near proximity. I get not wanting to live near a business, but in building and buying near a former church building it should have been clear that there would be uses for the location that could or would result in people attending events.

  4. It seems the River Ridge folks forget that no one wanted their condo building built on Route 9D, either. How quickly the NIMBY card is played. They live on a major thoroughfare, across from a firehouse, and they are concerned about potentially noisy concerts twice a week where they might want to keep their windows closed for two hours? People can’t move to a city and expect there not to be a moderate amount of noise. The noise from Billy Joe’s Ribworks across the river [on the Newburgh waterfront] is going to be louder than this place. [via Facebook]

    • Noise is not the only issue. The patrons at Billy Joe’s do not park in our neighborhood, nor do they enter and leave an entertainment venue 150 at a time at all times of the day. [via Facebook]

  5. The developer has built into his plan the ability to host multiple events in single days, multiple times a week, so the suggestion that people would just keep their windows closed for short periods is not fair or reasonable. After sitting through nearly every Planning Board meeting for the past year, I know many residents — old Beacon and “new” Beacon (whatever that means) — find this unacceptable. [via Facebook]

  6. There is a reason why this project has been in a public hearing (and 15-plus iterations) for two years: It does not have a via-ble business model or sufficient parking, and it is not zoning-compliant. The developer has reduced the scale of attendees but wants to be able to host multiple events per day, which goes back to the original plan of 300-plus attendees per day.

    Thankfully, as of now, the proposal to place a public path through the historic cemetery has been taken off the table. [via Instagram]

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