Gateway City Arts, located at 92 Race St., is being sold to LightHouse Holyoke.
Reminder Publishing photo by Trent Levakis

HOLYOKE — A buyer for Gateway City Arts and its three-building performing and fine arts complex has come through as alternative school LightHouse Holyoke will purchase the building and move from its current 208 Race St. building down to 92 Race St. and expand on their work.

Gateway City Arts was announced for sale last year by Founders Lori Divine and Vitek Kruta after finding themselves in a rut related to challenges out of the coronavirus pandemic and being left out of relief money administered by the city. The 28,400-square-foot-building has been a foundational place for entertainment in the city for over a decade.

Divine told Reminder Publishing said the sale has brought on a rollercoaster of emotions as they set to part ways with what she called “the center of our lives for 13 years.”

“What we created in GCA was a culmination of our dreams, visions and love for creativity art and community. We are immensely proud of what we brought to Holyoke, and it is hard to walk away. It is truly bittersweet, and we are heartbroken to not have found a solution to continue our creation. However, it is time for us to move on,” Divine said.

Divine shared that she and Kruta will miss their dedicated staff and all the people who graced the halls of the building.

“Whether they were teachers, musicians, party and concert goers, foodies — we will miss the smiling faces. We will miss the joy that people expressed while at GCA. We will miss seeing the pride in people as they discover something new — whether it was learning a craft or discovering something about themselves,” Divine added.

LightHouse is an alternative school focused on competency-based and self-directed learning for middle and high school students. First opened in 2015, LightHouse eventually would collaborate with Holyoke Public Schools by 2017 and to this date have partnerships with six public districts.

The school has 80 total students with 35 of them coming from the Holyoke Public Schools. It charges a sliding-scale tuition and gets public support to fund its operations. The current space LightHouse operates under is a leased 8,000-square-foot space so the move to the 40,000-square-foot-facility down the street will be a huge add that will only help expand and grow as a school.

LightHouse Holyoke Executive Director Catherine Gobron and Assistant Director Carlos Peña spoke with Reminder Publishing and shared their excitement for the purchase and what it means for their work with the youth.

“There’s so much that’s exciting in that space that we can expand it. What we’re doing here, but more and bigger with more students,” Gobron said.

The new facility will help expand on current programs like the school’s maker space, music studio and recording studio. LightHouse also plans to facilitate a Production Academy within the 40,000-square-foot facility two onsite performance spaces, the 100-person-capacity Divine Theater and the larger 500-person-capacity concert venue.

The 100-person Divine Theater will be the school’s in-house theater and lead to the formation of a program for students. The 8,000-square-foot community maker space built by Divine and Kruta already has a woodshop and ceramics studio, and the space will continue to host classes and workspaces for both LightHouse students and the community.

“The students will be guided around all of the things from finding artists, to book shows and then all the things that go into a performance, learning lighting and sound,” Gobron said. “I am super excited about it because it will be fun, but also they’re low threshold jobs. Which means you can just start working, you don’t have to go to college. A lot of our students do choose to go to college and that’s wonderful and we support that, but it’s also great to have options if that’s not your path.”

They will also utilize the restaurant space and will reopen and use it with integrated courses and internships looking at all aspects of running the café. This will lead to paid work opportunities and give students experience at the entry level of different professions in entertainment and service.

“This is a wonderful space, and we have wonderful things like the maker space, the music studio, but they’re limited. It’s a small space, a small studio, so that allows us to expand and be more for more students and people,” Peña said. “And to be more part of the community, so people can now look at us and see there’s shows to go to, there’s more stuff for the kids to go do now.”

Horacio Diaz, a student at LightHouse Holyoke told Reminder Publishing he is excited to see the opportunities that come from the growth of the school through its move. He said coming to LightHouse gave him a new perspective on school, changing his mindset of how he thought about things.

“I wanted to drop out of school, I didn’t want to do good in life. Once I came to LightHouse they gave me different opportunities and different things to do. They made me make my own decisions,” Diaz said. “They make it work for you.”

This purchase comes a year after an announced $4 million plan to buy and renovate the Sons of Zion building at 378 Maple St., but as construction costs continued to rise the project eventually fell through.

“We had to step back from that very recently which was a hard decision and really disappointing to the congregation because they were excited about the effort,” Gobron said. “We just had to face that we weren’t going to be able to fill that gap in funding.”

Gobron said thankfully a conversation with Divine came at a good time and the two parties were able to find a deal. Gobron said they plan to be in the new space and ready for the new school year in September and they plan to lease out the third floor of the building.

Divine said finding LightHouse as the buyer for Gateway City Arts has definitely helped ease the pain of parting ways with her and Kruta’s creation.

“The mission and values of LightHouse are very aligned with ours and we are delighted that they are the ones buying the property,” Divine said. “We were very worried that someone would be interested in purchasing it and wouldn’t value, understand or honor what we created. One of our goals was to help impact people’s lives and there is no questions that LightHouse Holyoke does that on a daily basis. Vitek and I will miss all that GCA has given to each of us, but thrilled that LightHouse Holyoke will be using, enjoying and exploring the possibilities the property affords.”

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts