WATERTOWN — For years, people have talked about the impact Jefferson Community College would have if it had a downtown presence.
In about 15 months, this long-held goal is about to become a reality.
JCC is partnering with Neighbors of Watertown to open an education center in the former Strand Theater and an adjacent building containing six storefronts on Franklin Street.
On Monday morning, JCC and Neighbors kicked off their project to transform the 120-year-old building and adjacent storefronts into Jefferson Community College‘s downtown entrepreneurship hub.
“We are thrilled for the college campus and the community,” said Megan Stadler, CCG’s vice president of strategic initiatives.
The college’s Small Business Development Center is now located on the JCC campus.
The partners will use $2.5 million of Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding to retrofit buildings to support entrepreneurs and provide workforce development training and employment opportunities. applied learning.
At a press conference on Monday, the JCC and state economic development officials gave tours of the old buildings and described how they will be converted into an educational center.
They also expressed their enthusiasm for JCC’s continued downtown revitalization. The center will also attract students and entrepreneurs to the city‘s business district.
Neighbors executive director Reginald J. Schweitzer Jr. plans to turn lower Franklin Street into a downtown location.
“It’s going to make a big difference downtown,” he said, pointing out that neighboring buildings will also soon benefit from an exterior facelift.
The former Strand Theater will be the centerpiece of the facility, with a large meeting room that can accommodate 150 people, an audiovisual room and a conference room.
A mezzanine atrium will also lead to a rooftop patio and garden. The center will also provide workspaces for colleagues.
Additionally, the new center will help revitalize a section of Franklin Street that was previously neglected.
The storefronts were previously going to undergo extensive facade renovations as part of the DRI program, but these were never completed. Now they will be.
Work on “base construction” is expected to begin in about 60 days, Schweitzer said.
The project is expected to be completed in approximately 15 months.
The State Department oversees the city’s $10 million DRI program, while Empire Statement Development has also been involved in the project.
The college plans to release a survey to gather local feedback on a name for the new space.
JCC originally planned a different project with DRI funding, but the pandemic and declining enrollment put those efforts on hold.
“Neighbours’ involvement is the raison d’être of the project,” said Ms. Stadler.
Neighbors, a local housing and redevelopment organization, bought the old theater and storefronts last year.
During their tour, Donald Foote recalled when he owned a hair and tanning salon, The Oasis, in two of the 1970s storefronts.
“I think it’s great to see these two old buildings coming back to life,” he said.
The Strand was the first theater in Watertown to offer movies. It closed in the 1950s and was then used as a series of restaurants and bars.
More recently, the building housed the Club Rio nightclub until it closed following a shooting.
Neighbors hope to find tenants for two of the storefronts, Mr. Schweitzer said.