November 26, 2018

Keeping up Mechanics Hall

Kathleen Gagne, Executive director, Mechanics Hall, Worcester

On Sept. 26, Kathleen Gagne took over leadership of Mechanics Hall from Bob Kennedy, who served in that capacity for 12 years. Gagne first joined the facility run by the Worcester County Mechanics Association in 1994, rising from publicist to vice director and chief development officer before becoming executive director.

What do you want to accomplish?

My primary goal is to increase our endowment fund to at least $10 million. Right now, the value is at $4 million.

How do you cover that $6-million gap?

It is about relationship building. We need to broaden the base of support inside and outside of Worcester.

How do your event revenues factor in?

We primarily function as a rental facility, so we want to maximize that activity without taxing the building too severely. We do between 260-270 event per year now. It only covers about 75 percent of our $2-million budget, so we need to raise 25 percent for the rest.

Then we need to raise another $300,000 per year for capital improvements. This year, we had to replace our loading garage door. We had to have a ceiling repair last winter that was pretty extensive; there was asbestos involved. There are always unexpected things. We are 161 years old.

Hasn't the building been under renovation for 40 years?

We do always have to keep pace with our building's needs – our mechanical systems and our equipment. All our renovations happened in phases. The first one in 1977 was a $5-million renovation mostly focused on the Great Hall and getting all the systems up to code. Prior to that, the fire department had closed us for not being up to code. Right up to the last major renovation in 2000, we tackled projects as funding became available.

But there is always the next renovation to keep up the building. The next major renovation will happen in the promenade area, the Main Street lobby and the Washburn Hall lobby. It is already funded, so we are excited about that.

Where does your fundraising come from?

There is lots of competition for nonprofit needs, and the Worcester foundations have been very generous to Mechanics Hall. We've benefitted from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, but that is not something you can depend on. You don't know what the state legislature is going to do.

We are in a competitive hospitality environment. There is all sorts of new venues and spaces, which is very exciting, but we need to stay on our toes to make sure we can meet client needs and provide exceptional service.

What are you fundraising now?

We are right in the middle of the Bob Kennedy Legacy Fund campaign. The goal for that is $1 million at least pledged by the end of the year. We began the drive in January, and we are just over $600,000 right now. The purpose of that fund is for the long-term health of the building.

The board of trustees established that in honor of not only Bob and his service to the hall, but for his service to the community over his career.

Has the hall changed in your 24 years?

Around the turn of the century, we would have around 160 events a year. Music Worcester during that period was bringing in really high-powered classical artists. As time went by, we became established as the community space for nonprofit fundraising, and our wedding business increased where we do 32 weddings per year.

Our community outreach has increased, and that is something I plan on continuing to do. Not just making the hall available to nonprofits who need our space to further their own missions, but to reach out and do cooperative work with nonprofits who have some ties to the hall.

Does the building's history help?

Mechanics Hall is unique in the world. I don't know of any other building quite like it. What other concert hall do you know about where you can have a baby shower? We are known all over the world by the musical community as one of the finest concert halls, but we are known in the neighborhood for being Worcester's gathering space. I love that story. I'm really excited to be part of it.


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