So was Nick Stuccio, who like Hornik, was once a part of the Old City renaissance. His Fringe Festival started in 1997 and used Old City exclusively for its offices and makeshift performances. After his group raises another $400,000 to start construction, which should take about seven months, the new Live Arts home will be a big industrial beauty with no support columns to get in the way of sightlines for the black-box theater. "We're also able to use Old Race Street, which is adjacent to the building, as outdoor public space," notes Stuccio.
The Live Arts/Fringe Fest folk have ventured to the waterfront before. Oddly enough, the first time was at the now-shuttered Egypt for 2010's late-night Festival Bar and cabaret setting.
"'Oh no' was what I first thought when we got to Egypt," says Fergus Carey, the owner of Fergie's, who has long donated his services to the Fringe/Live Arts' ramshackle vision of a post-show saloon. "The first time we did it on Willow Street, it was in an empty warehouse with me and two unemployed pals of mine pouring beers from a jockey box on a makeshift bar with a kids' swimming pool full of ice with kegs in it," Carey says in one breath. "It was fun, and I made myself un-fireable by giving them all the money." Carey jokes that this is why he continued to run their Festival Bar up through that Egypt era. "It was a strange time there. I kept thinking that I didn't want to be down there with all those motorcycles popping wheelies and those goofy makeshift gangs — until we did it and was pretty great." Now as a consultant to the new Live Arts space's beverage setup, Carey chuckles over the upcoming venture: "Mixing food and drink with theater is complicated. It might be that one feeds the other. But it'll be a far cry from a kiddies' pool full of ice, I can tell you that."
Stuccio always wanted a permanent home for his organization's cultural activities. "It was part of the plan from the start and increasingly necessary throughout our time," says Stuccio. "The idea of being nomadic every year became unsustainable — it wasn't reconciling with our desire to grow and serve the public in a broader way."
Like Hornik, Stuccio was struck first by the beauty of the riverfront location. "Walk out onto Race Street Pier — to the end where you can stand out over that body of water — it's absolutely breathtaking, a very powerful and beautiful place to be. ... It's seven-plus miles of raw potential that's there for the next wave of intrepid developers, and we want to be there."
After so many promises about the riverfront from honchos in and out of City Hall, there is now the whiff of a progressive waterfront that caters to Philadelphia's smartest and hippest. Yet George Polgar notes that the old Delaware Avenue didn't start its reign wanting to be the Parrothead/guido/muscle-head nightclub death pit it turned into. "It wasn't necessarily what we wanted," he admits. "If you position Delaware Avenue from the start as a center for the arts and alternative music — and make it more inclusive — then it won't be 'trendy.' It will be sturdy. That's the normal progression of nightlife. But," he adds with a note of caution, "anything can happen."