The newly renamed FringeArts is renovating a red-brick Victorian building from 1903 that had served as a water department pumping station for more than a century. The 10,000-square-foot building, facing the Delaware River waterfront near the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, will have a 240-seat theater, a 125-seat bar and restaurant, multipurpose studio space, administrative offices and a large outdoor plaza.
The $7 million facility is scheduled to open in September, in conjunction with a popular two-week experimental theater festival of local, national and international artists that are presented in dozens of venues around the city.
The Fringe has become an incubator for artists from around the Philadelphia region and an economic engine that generates $8 million a year for the city and local businesses and organizations, president and producing director Nick Stuccio said.
"But we are poised to do more," he said. "This building is not just a physical space ... it will be a catalyst to transform our organization to a year-round presenter of contemporary art."
The new space also will open up more potential sources of revenue from renting out space and from the bar and restaurant, organizers said.
Since it began in 1997, the festival has expanded from five to 16 days, with the number of participating artists and groups increasing from 60 to about 200. Total attendance has risen from 12,000 in the first year to 40,000 in 2012.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, who was mayor of Philadelphia when the Fringe began in 1997, said it helped revive the city's downtown and make it a more attractive place for young people to live and play.
"I remember people came to me and said, 'They're starting this thing called Fringe Festival,' and I said, 'Oh my gosh, are there going to be arrests?'" Rendell said with a laugh. "And they said, 'No, no, it's going to be all right."
The state has provided $1 million in seed money for the project and the remainder is coming from grants and donations, with all but $600,000 of the $7 million total already raised. The Fringe bought the building last summer for $750,000.
Organizers also unveiled the festival's name change to FringeArts, which previously was known as the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe.
"We needed a name that fit on the marquee," Stuccio said.