Monday, August 11, 2014
By James Lomuscio
Plans for a membership-supported, nonprofit, three-screen movie theater in downtown Westport—as well as relocating the Westport Arts Center (WAC) from Riverside Avenue to Jesup Green—were detailed at a Downtown Steering Committee (DSC) public presentation tonight that drew 30 persons to the Town Hall auditorium.
Wesport Cinema Initiative (WCI) principals including Executive Director Sandy Lefkowitz, President Jonathan Steinberg and Vice President Doug Tirola, choreographed how the planned two-story cinema located in a parking area behind Tavern on Main would offer first-run art films and retrospective movies, as well as films geared for children.
WCI leadership also stressed how the cinema, expected to cost $4.5 million in private funding for construction and first year operational expenses, would offer educational programs, benefit families and forge a greater sense of community.
“Our mission has always been to bring film to the community and to build the community through film,” said Steinberg, who recalled a time when Westport had five movie theaters and noted that as a young man he was an usher in the Fine Arts Theatre, now home to Restoration Hardware.
Steinberg said that following necessary fundraising and town approvals, the theater should be up an running within two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years.
Tirola noted that the theater, based on the same concept as the membership-supported Avon Theatre in Stamford, would offer children and adults a safe downtown gathering place “where people could get together without a big investment where they wouldn’t get together otherwise.”
According to architect Rick Hoag, the two-story complex would have 125-seat and 75-seat screens on the first floor and a 50-foot theater on the second, as well as concession areas.
“We chose this location because it’s right downtown ...the idea of walking right off Main Street,” said Hoag, adding that the alley beneath Tavern on Main to the theater would create “the idea of an arcade.”
Lefkowitz said that charter membership would cost $75, but that the theater would be open to all who purchased tickets, though members would get a $2 discount
“I have been following this casually until tonight, and I must say this looks terrific,” said Don Bergmann, a a former member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM)l, who spoke.
He said his only concern was what would happen if attendance went down for films after the first year of operation.
Steinberg responded that the WCI is using “very conservative attendance figures and not going in with a rosy agenda.”
“You’ll see how few fannies and seats we’re counting on,” he said.
Lance Lundberg, chairman of the Westport Arts Center (WAC), and Peter Van Heerden, WAC executive director, followed the WCI presentation, detailing plans for relocating the arts center to Jesup Green from Riverside Avenue within two to four years.
Two plans are afoot, one for a 10,000-square-foot facility and a second for a 7,500-square-foot one, either one on the hill to the east of Jesup Green near a road leading to the Westport Library.
According to Lundberg, the move is needed since the current location is only 3,500 square feet, enough for just one gallery, limiting space for exhibitions and offices.
Van Heerden spoke of the proposed location as as creating “a downtown synergy” with the Westport Library and the Levitt Pavilion, “a cultural campus.”
Lundberg said that project, expected to cost between $6 and $7 million, already has $3 million in committed pledges.
Arthur Ashman, a member of the RTM and WAC board, stressed that the new arts center would not impinge on Jesup Green, but even allow for more green space as parked cars are relocated, removed from the river’s edge, resulting in “even more grass.”
RTM member Carla Rea asked if WAC would be leasing or buying the land from the town, and Lundberg said that the matter was being examined.
“This is a real project that will happen,” Lundberg said.
Posted 08/11/14 at 10:09 PM
Let’s make sure we leave no stone unturned folks…we will not rest until every home is demolished and replaced, every tree cut down and re-planted, every corner of our town gets completely gutted and totally changed. Who needs NYC? We’ve got a metropolis in the works right in our back yard. (Sarcasm noted)
And to think, the Downtown Study Committee found that folks want to keep a “small town atmosphere.”
Who actually supports the Art Center going to Jesup Green in the first place?
Change happens. The only question is whether it’s guided by a vision or left to happen randomly. I prefer having us all work together to plan for the future, and to reach concensus wherever possible.
Let’s see what the Downtown Steering Committee comes up with. Everyone is invited to join the process and make your voice heard.