The Clifton Center will close at the end of the year after more than two decades in operation as a performance venue, community gathering space and cultural hub.
The Clifton Center leases the 40,000-square-foot former school building and theater at 2117 Payne St., which is owned by the Archdiocese of Louisville and sits on the property occupied by St. Frances of Rome Catholic Parish.
News of the closure began circulating in private neighborhood Facebook groups Saturday morning.
In addition, Insider Louisville received an email from Clifton Community Council Vice President Mike O’Leary, who shed light on the impending closure and asked residents of “Clifton, Clifton Heights, Crescent Hill, Irish Hill, and friends of the Clifton Center” to band together in an effort to arrive at “a win-win situation.”
O’Leary’s email included a press release from the Clifton Center, dated April 21, which confirmed the closure.
According to that press release, the Clifton Center’s landlord, “St. Frances of Rome Catholic Parish, has decided to re-purpose the former school building for other use.” Although the Archdiocese of Louisville owns the property, it is leased by St. Frances.
The press release did not provide further details on how the facility might be used in the future, though O’Leary indicated in his email that the archdiocese wants to once again make use of the property.
Here is the backstory, according to O’Leary:
Holy Trinity Parish/School has been wanting to build an auditorium on the property of Holy Trinity, 423 Cherrywood Road, 40207. They hoped to have a theater as part of the auditorium. The Archdiocese of Louisville owns the property and said no to the proposal. The Archdiocese felt it would not be fiscally responsible to build a new auditorium when the Archdiocese owns Eifler Theater on their property at St Frances of Rome/Clifton Center.
The lease for the Clifton Center came up for renewal this year and the Archdiocese decided not to renew the lease. The Archdiocese has decided to take over their property currently known as the Clifton Center and Eifler Theater. The train-of-thought is to have Holy Trinity use Eifler Theater and [a] special needs school use the classrooms of the building.
IL reached out to the Archdiocese of Louisville but did not receive a response prior to publication; however, multiple sources confirmed Holy Trinity’s interest in a new theater space.
Though plans for a new school at the site could not be confirmed, “in 1985, the facility became a school for special needs children,” according to the Clifton Center’s website. It is unclear when that school ceased operation. In 1994, the Clifton Center was spun off as a separate, independent nonprofit “to continue the renewal of the building and its role in the community.”
Clifton Center Board of Directors Chairman Don Burch told IL Saturday evening, “We’re deeply disappointed that this exceptional venue is coming to an end.”
Originally, Burch said, Clifton Center leadership assumed they would be re-negotiating their lease, which is set to expire at the end of the year. During those discussions, however, Burch said they were made aware of necessary building maintenance and of the potential financial burden that might befall St. Frances of Rome as a result.
“We were notified shortly thereafter that our lease would not be renewed and that Holy Trinity would be repurposing the building to use our renovated theater and the rest of the building for educational purposes.”
During its nearly 23-year tenure at the property, the Clifton Center has made major investments — in particular an elevator making the building handicap accessible — and Burch is doubtful they could find a comparable venue in the neighborhood.
“The Clifton Center was responsible for the installation of an elevator through the generosity of funds from the city and numerous individuals, which made the entire building accessible,” Burch said. “These improvements and the 23-year-old location make it difficult to find another location that replicates our mission to the neighborhood, our community, and the sophistication of our presentations.”
That’s why the Clifton Community Council’s Mike O’Leary is holding out hope that a compromise can be reached regarding the current Clifton Center site.
“There is no bad guy in all of this,” O’Leary told IL. “The Archdiocese is planning to use their property (Clifton Center) in a manner that fits their mission. Holy Trinity is trying to get an auditorium/theater. The Clifton Center wants to continue their fine work with programming and supporting nonprofits.”
“I think and I hope all of us stakeholders can come up with a plan to share facilities and plans to continue all of the good work and service being provided by these fine groups.”
Clifton Center Interim Executive Director Cynthia Adelberg said they had hoped some kind of shared usage would be part of the offer put forth by their landlord, but it was not. “That decision is out of our domain and would be up to the parish and archdiocese.”
The Clifton Center’s historic 500-seat auditorium, the Eifler Theatre, is named for the Rev. John G. Eifler, the retired St. Frances of Rome pastor who led the renewal of the building, which was constructed in 1929.
The theater serves as a performance space for regular music series including Kentucky Homefront and WFPK Winter Wednesdays, plus the Live at the Clifton Center concert series that has featured performers like Loudon Wainright, Bonnie Prince Billy and Leo Kotke.
The adjacent former school building is home to numerous visual art, dance and music studios and the UofL Business School’s off-campus classroom.
When asked whether the Clifton Center organization intends to seek out another space in which to operate, Adelberg said it’s too soon to think about that. “The Clifton community has always been at the heart of everything we do,” she said. “We are focused on making these last eight months at 2117 Payne St. the very best they can be!