By Russ Tarby
Would the village of Liverpool allow a “trade school” to be an approved use of the historic Zogg Building at 800 Fourth St.?
That was the question facing the village board of trustees at its March 20 meeting. Mayor Gary White acknowledged that the village had received between 15 and 20 letters of support for the proposed purchase of the former high school by Hollywood director Jeremy Garelick (“The Wedding Ringer”) who plans to convert it into a school for film-makers.
“We’ve received no negative feedback at all,” White said. “But a lot of the people at Jeremy’s meeting were not village residents.”
The mayor and several other village officials attended a March 7 meeting at the Zogg auditorium at which Garelick outlined his plans before an audience of about 400. He’s tentatively titling the project Liverpool School of Cinema.
“Jeremy [Garelick] is willing to work with us to make this a good fit,” White said. “But village controls are important, and the neighbors need to be informed. Personally, I think it’s a great idea.”
Garelick plans to convert the 89-year-old building into a trade school for aspiring movie-makers.
“We want to mentor students by producing several films here — three to five annually — to give students hands-on training, so they know what it’s like to work on a movie set,” he said. The movies would each be budgeted between $6 million and $15 million.
Trustee Matt Devendorf applauded the idea, but said, “We must be sure to do it right.”
Trustee Dennis Hebert agreed. “I’d like to see it move forward to a public hearing,” he said.
Village Attorney John Langey predicted that at least two public hearings on the project would be scheduled before it can become reality. Robert Germain, a Syracuse attorney representing Garelick, said that the purchase offer on the 6.9-acre property is contingent upon the village changing its zoning code to allow the building to be used as a trade school.
Last year, the property’s selling price was $1,295,000.
Trustee Christina Fadden Fitch said that if the village awarded Liverpool School of Cinema a special permit, it should require that it has bona fide ties to higher educational institutions. Germain said three local colleges have already committed involvement, but Fitch wanted more information about how film students here would earn college credits.
At its March 27 meeting the village planning board approved a motion to recommend changing the Village Code’s definition of “school” to include “trade school.”
The definition the trustees will consider is as follows:
“Any public or private kindergarten, elementary, secondary, college level or equivalent teaching unit organized by a governmental authority or private teaching entity having a curriculum equal or similar to public elementary, secondary or college level schools and trade schools offering skilled trade training, apprentice education and practical experience with commensurate accreditation or written program acceptance from traditional secondary or college level institutions. Main and ancillary uses with a direct nexus to the educational purpose may be permitted for trade schools in residential zones subject to the issuance of a Special Use Permit pursuant to Article XIV of the Code.”
Planning board member John Eallonardo voiced a word of warning.
“I’m concerned about [the village] losing control when special permits are issued,” he said.