Demolition of iconic live music spot The Haunt begins, but a relocation is coming

ITHACA, N.Y.—The Haunt played host to some of the most hotly anticipated live music shows over the last several decades in Ithaca, but after the building at 702 Willow Avenue was recently sold, the live music venue and bar is being torn down.

Demolition started this week of the building as the City Harbor residential project ramps up nearby. The Ithaca Voice‘s Brian Crandall reports that The Haunt property will be utilized as part of the City Harbor project’s expanse. As for The Haunt brand, it seems poised to stay alive but in a different place under Dan Smalls, the prominent local show promoter and booker behind DSP Shows.

In an interview, Smalls said he had purchased the name and brand from the previous owners and is currently gauging locations for a new place that would house The Haunt on a permanent basis.

“It allows me to work with the people we’re working with to look for a new and bigger and better location, which continues to be our plan,” Smalls said. “The question is just when we will be ready to announce it. That’ll be hopefully soon, but we’re working very diligently toward a new location. Our goal is to be the premier live entertainment venue in Central New York. It’ll be a gathering place for not just live music, like The Haunt, but a real downtown gathering spot.”

Smalls acknowledged that the ongoing pandemic makes it impossible to know when live music venues will be able to open back up, but that he hopes to have something ready to open in a full capacity by, optimistically, early 2022.

“(COVID-19 guidance) will dictate how quickly we move with the next project, but there will be a next project,” Smalls said. “Something that’s a usable, hopefully downtown location, and there’s lots of areas downtown that are currently being developed, so hopefully that gives people an idea of where that could be.”

The Haunt originally opened in downtown Ithaca in the 1960s before later moving to its most recent home in the West End in the 1990s, attracting large crowds, national acts and local up-and-coming talent. Smalls said he grew up going to the previous location on Green Street, but that it was sad to see the building torn down. Aspirationally, Smalls cites the Higher Ground venue in Burlington as a place he’d like to emulate with the new space—something that could make Ithaca a “must stop” for those touring the region, even outside of musical acts.

The Masonic Temple building located at 115-117 North Cayuga Street is often mentioned as a potential landing spot for a new music venue, but Smalls said that though he’s spoken to that building’s owners again recently about that possibility, it “isn’t on the table at this point.”

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