Skrappy’s Reopens with a New Face & Name

December 30, 2013 |
Skrappy’s Reopens 1

Tom Collins, Executive Director of City on a Hill & new leader for 191, previously known as Skrappy’s.
photo: Craig Baker

Throughout the month of December, a handful of volunteer do-gooders were hard at work gutting out the building formerly known as Skrappy’s in the Warehouse Arts District on Toole Avenue. The place was more or less in ruins, says Tom Collins, Executive Director of City on a Hill (COAH)—the Christian outreach non-profit that took over the lease on the property from Skrappy’s founder Kathy Wooldridge in November of last year. The venue and youth outreach center held its last show Saturday, Nov. 2 before closing its doors with no clear path to reopening.

Collins said that he simply expressed an interest in the property to a board member and the ball was quickly rolling to transfer control of the all ages-haven to COAH. Collins brought youth-driven Epicenter Church on board to help with outreach and operations (they will also be holding worship services on site every Sunday), and their collective progress in renovation has put the place on track for their Grand Opening celebration, scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 11.

Though capacity is limited at the moment due to the fact that the building has only one bathroom (plans are in place to build a second), a lineup of nearly a dozen bands including the California-based Cool Ghouls has already signed on for the January show.

This most recent facelift marks at least the fifth iteration of the center which focuses on providing a drug and alcohol-free space where at risk and homeless teens can safely mingle. Past-lives of the center include a short-lived phase as a nightclub on Oracle, and stints downtown next to the Rialto at 201 E. Broadway Blvd., in the basement of the Boys’ and Girls’ Club on Alameda, and finally in their present location since 2009.

Skrappy’s ran as a partnership with local homeless outreach organization Our Family Services from 2002-2009, when it transitioned to self-management as the Tucson Youth Collective. The center gained some notoriety that supporters claimed was unwarranted when a man was shot to death outside the Broadway Boulevard location during a concert in December of 2005. Our Family Services settled a wrongful death suit with the victim’s family out of court for $150,000 in the summer of 2007. The lease on the Broadway location was subsequently not renewed and the group struggled to regain financial traction ever since.

Tom Collins, Executive Director of City on a Hill & new leader for 191, previously known as Skrappy’s. photo: Criag Baker

Tom Collins, Executive Director of City on a Hill & new leader for 191, previously known as Skrappy’s.
photo: Criag Baker

Collins and his friend Matt Baquet—another Skrappy’s old-schooler-turned-volunteer who works as a Booking Agent and Club Liason at Hotel Congress—say that, after the shooting, the social culture at the center really began to decline. They say it became cliquey and attracted only a small fraction of the up to 500 daily visitors the center had handled in its heyday.

“We kind of want to just open the doors with this Jan. 11 show saying, ‘Hey, anyone can be here; whatever your background, wherever you’re from, you can come and hang out’… that’s what we want to bring back (to this place),” says Collins.

In the spirit of a fresh start, though the paint on the building’s façade is not likely to change anytime soon, the name “Skrappy’s” will be going into retirement. Collins and his crew have opted for the simplified echo of the building’s address, “191,” in lieu of the traditional moniker.

Those getting their hands dirty for the project are optimistic about the prospects for the future of the roughly 12,000 square-foot center. Baquet thinks Collins’ leadership promises to usher in a new “golden age of Skrappy’s.”

“I really think this is going to be something special. Like five years down the road it’s going to be the premiere all-ages spot in Arizona,” he says, his gaze fixed on something in the distance.

Like him, Collins is also looking ahead. In the ramshackle, slightly water-damaged warehouse he sees a full working kitchen, a computer gathering and conference area, a lounge. In the basement, strewn with the litter and bullet holes from previous tenants, he sees a plan for offices and a green room for visiting artists.

Though he intends to still pass out food and clothing from the location, his dream of providing counseling, job training, and eventually even paying jobs to the community’s at risk youth from 191’s warehouse site is still a long way off. But what they lack in funding these young activists make up for in energy. And it is their dedication to providing teens a safe place to go after school and on weekends that may well be what reinvigorates Tucson’s young musical culture.

191 is located at 191 E. Toole Ave. The Grand Opening Show is Saturday, Jan. 11 from about noon until the wee hours, if all goes to plan. It is a free, all-ages show.

Category: Arts, Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE