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Opening the gates: Castle Community project sets debut

November 15, 2018

The kitchen for Cameo restaurant at the Castle Community building, the former armory in downtown Rochester.

Urban studies pioneer and journalist Jane Jacobs once mused “new ideas need old buildings.”

At the old armory in downtown Rochester, a group called the Castle Community is reviving the historic building and bringing some new concepts to the heart of the city.

People can get a glimpse of the work, on the cusp of completion, Thanksgiving Day weekend, with a series of opening events.

The ballroom and event space upstairs will serve as a warming house from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. when Santa Claus visits as part of the Rochester Downtown Alliance’s annual “Here Comes Santa Claus” event Nov. 23.

On Nov. 24, the community will host art activities and will collect record and book donations. The group will also have the building open to the public Sunday, Nov. 25, from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cameo, the lower level restaurant will open 3 p.m. Nov. 23.

The Castle Community’s proposal for the space was selected by the city last fall after the building was vacated by the Rochester Senior Center in 2016. The Castle Community group bought the building from the city for $675,000 and has since undertaken the massive renovation project. Work began in July.

As the project moved forward, uses for the space as well as features of the building became more apparent, said Naura Anderson, one of the Castle Community owners.

“We’ve learned a lot of things along the way about the building,” Anderson said. “Some of them really good, some of them not.”

Some surprises include an original hardwood floor on the main floor that was not only intact but still had basketball court stripes painted on it. Original brick and the curved, amber wood finish ceiling on the wood ceiling above the upstairs event space were uncovered in renovation work.

Other things, such as a bit of asbestos and other setbacks have been taken care of with some help.

“The city has been a great partner in navigating this process,” Anderson said.

Once complete, the building will house Cameo, a new restaurant, on the bottom floor. The main floor will have artist work and studio space as well as a nonprofit book and record store. Upstairs is a ballroom event and performance space with a lobby and small public galleries. Some of those spaces will be ready to go by Thanksgiving weekend; others are being finished up, including the bookstore.

That’s just a rough outline for use of the historic space. Other ideas will come to realization in time.

Scott Hoss, a realtor and one of the Castle Community owners, said the project has taught him about the potential of the old space. He said he didn’t have much of an idea what it would become but knew the building looked nice from the outside.

Now, as the project nears public debut, Hoss said he can finally see the potential others saw. Now, as he gives short sneak preview tours, he sees a similar response from visitors as they move from the common area downstairs to the event space upstairs.

“You get a little bit of a reaction,” he said.

“But when they come up here, they unload,” he added gesturing to the event space.

The group is soliciting donations of books and records to help open Collective Books, a shop planned for the main floor. Proceeds from the store will go toward operating costs of the building.

Artist Eric Anderson plans to rent studio space in the building and make part of it open to the public. Anderson has created multiple exhibits including the First Person Plural which was part of the Rochester Art Center’s recent “The Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” exhibit.

“A larger driver for me is to facilitate work space for the community,” he said.

This story has been changed to clarify that Cameo will not be open for brunch during the debut weekend. Restaurant hours will be 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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