Encore at the Uptown

For nearly five years, the doors to the Uptown Theatre remained closed, its marquee empty — literal and symbolic representations of the void created in the community by the shuttering of a once-thriving venue that anchored the South Utica neighborhood.

All that changed in 2017 when Uptown Theatre for Creative Arts (UTCA) was established, with a goal to offer diverse programming intended to inspire, educate, engage and entertain. Co-founders Devin and Briana Mahoney hope the theater will serve as a cultural, economic and social asset for the region and a catalyst for the revitalization of Utica’s Uptown neighborhood.

The reintroduction of the historic Uptown Theatre to the community as a regional entertainment destination, neighborhood anchor and economic stimulator is underway, with UTCA already offering classes in improv, sketch writing, stand-up and youth programming.

The Mahoneys envision the Uptown Theatre becoming “the venue” for a dynamic range of constantly evolving programs, on stage and on screen, with multifunctional entertainment spaces.

UTCA developed a strategically phased renovation process, successfully completing phase one in 2018 with the creation of studio and classroom space, and the addition of an original mural on the south side of the Genesee Street landmark.

Since 2018, The Community Foundation has awarded UTCA $26,000, with support from the Dean and Eva Kelly Fund and the F.X. Matt II Memorial Fund, used primarily toward the cost of an energy-efficient heating system and renovations to the theater lobby, to make it a viable space for events, performances, workshops and community gatherings. In the past, the lobby served as a corridor to pass through on the way into the theater, but UTCA envisions it as a functioning multipurpose space with a unique appeal all its own.

Restoration and improvement of the main theater area will begin in the next phase of the project. UTCA plans to reopen the iconic main theater auditorium as a space for live performances and movie screenings, with a new emphasis on community involvement through collaborative classes.

“The Uptown means so much to so many people. I grew up seeing movies here. Everyone just wants to see the doors open again, and we see transforming the lobby as the way to make that happen as soon as possible,” said Devin Mahoney.

The excitement surrounding Utica’s recent revitalization has gained momentum over the past decade, pushed forward with the same community pride and innovative spirit that guided the city through its earlier periods of growth and development. Utica’s rebirth runs parallel to another movement, a homecoming of sorts—young people returning to their local roots after having lived in larger metropolitan areas, coming home to raise families and grow their careers.

Individuals like the Mahoneys, who returned to the region after living in Los Angeles for 15 years, are bringing new vitality and helping to reshape the city they want to live in, for the future.

“I notice with a lot of people in the area, there’s a lot of entrepreneurial energy and people really just make things happen,” said Briana Mahoney. “I think there’s a lot of great small businesses, a lot of change, and I think it’s because people take it upon themselves to do that. I think that inspired us to want to do this.”