A couple of months ago, the current construction project at the Utica Memorial Auditorium unearthed a pleasant surprise that brought construction and development of The AUD full circle.
While disassembling the area around the Labatt Blue Ticket Entrance, construction workers stumbled upon a time capsule, placed strategically near the brick that said “1958” – the year that The AUD was constructed. Workers brought the capsule to the Comets office, where it was opened and examined. The capsule contained some coins, part of a newspaper from 1960, and 16 mm film that had to be sent out to be developed. The Comets staff waited patiently to see what would transpire, and whether or not the film would be valuable or worthless.
When the film was returned, everyone watched in awe at four minutes of footage from the 1950s of not only the AUD being constructed, but also of Mayor John Mckennan and Structural Engineer Lev Zetlin signing what is figured to be important documents regarding his approval for construction of The AUD. Mayor McKennan devised the plan for The AUD – a center for sports and entertainment in downtown Utica, and a place that people could convene to socialize and enjoy their time in the Mohawk Valley. Lev Zetlin is seen sitting to the right of McKennan and an unidentified gentleman, while they look over blueprints of the building that would eventually exist as the home for the Utica Comets, Utica College Pioneers, and Utica Jr. Comets. The video then transitions to footage of the site in its infancy, showing shots of workers and cranes as they drill into the swampy grounds of The AUD; viewers then see interior shots of the building and its complex and innovative cable-designed roof system that was, at its time, one of only three arenas with unobstructed views. The final shots consist of the exterior of what appears to be the finished AUD, with cars parked along both sides of Oriskany Street.
It was more than the Comets staff expected to see, as it was a live action glimpse into the construction of the building the Comets and others call their home. But it was more than cool video footage – it represented a full circle of development and entrepreneurship that mirrors what is going on today at 400 Oriskany St West. The current West End Expansion project will add 21,000 square feet to The AUD, thereby enhancing the fan experience and entertainment value of the National Historic Engineering Landmark. The video gives viewers an inside look at buildings being torn down, only for new structures to be built – a similar process that the AUD Authority looks to emulate for development of the Nexus Center.
“The demolition and construction that the city went through back in the late 1950s in order to elevate the city is extremely comparable to what the AUD Authority and local leaders wish to accomplish with the Nexus Center,” said CEO of MVG Robert Esche. “It is a rewarding experience to be able to follow in the footsteps of our forefathers and further execute Mayor McKennan’s initial vision for the city of Utica.”
The discovery of the time capsule felt right, as it came as workers broke ground on the only major structural construction to occur to The AUD since its inception. The mystery of Lev Zetlin (where Zetlin’s Lounge got its name) became a little less so, as a smile stretched across his face from ear to ear as he and McKennan looked over the plans for the eventual sports and entertainment epicenter. And finally, reality set in, as the video showed a personal look into the creation of a space that Utica would just not be the same without.
So as the film was passed around from the Comets staff to the Garden Entertainment staff to the AUD Authority, everyone agreed on one thing – that it was imperative to refill the time capsule with new contributions before returning it to a designated spot on the grounds. Authority Chairman Carl Annese orchestrated the process, collecting various AUD marketing materials, a newspaper from June 14, 2013 – the day the Comets were announced, pucks from both the Utica Comets and Utica College, an Inaugural Season Comets yearbook, current construction videos and photos, and other keepsakes. The Authority will also add a newspaper from the same day the capsule is closed to show its future possessors what was happening in the world around the time construction was completed.
“Continuing the tradition of the time capsule is very important to the Authority,” Annese said. “We have no idea who will open it, but when they do, we feel that the contents will give a comprehensive look at what life was like from 2013 through the current construction project of 2017.”
It may have taken over sixty years for The AUD to experience its next major construction project, but it was definitely better late than never. With the future development of downtown Utica and the proposed U District in the forefront of people’s minds, the landscape of Utica may be unrecognizable by the time the next person stumbles upon the capsule. Regardless of how downtown Utica will look when the time capsule will be opened next, its contents will reflect the history and valor of The AUD.