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Downtown Theater Moving ‘Beyond Talk’

By James Lomuscio

All the stars seems to be aligned tonight as Westport Cinema Initiative (WCI) officials gave a report detailing the progress made toward their goal of bringing a movie theater back to Westport.WestportNow.com Image
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg tells of progress at tonight’s Westport Cinema Initiative meeting at Bobby Q’s. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“I’m very pleased to say we are beyond the talking stage,” state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, WCI president, told about 20 people who had assembled in the rooftop beer garden at Bobby Q’s Restaurant downtown.

“We’ve been showing movies for months, we have three potential sites for a permanent venue and we now have 501C3 status.”

The latter will allow the WCI to solicit tax deductible donations when it begins its campaign to raise between $3 and $4 million in about three months. That money, said Jerry Minsky, who is heading up the campaign, will go to building the two-screen theater, operating expenses and starting an endowment.

Sandy Lefkowitz, former head of the Westport Youth Film Festival and one of the movie theater’s prime movers, said the three potential sites are the parking lot behind the Tavern on Main restaurant, the old U.S. Post Office building on Post Road East, and a building on Main Street.

Local developer David Waldman, a member of WCI, said the Main Street location would require putting a second floor atop t66-69 Main St., which formerly housed the Gap store.

Minsky, for one, said the old post office “would be the perfect spot.”

“They all have their pros and cons, and we will see,” said Steinberg. “The point is we’re very pleased that we’re at this point, and we’re only a year old. WestportNow.com Image
Producer Doug Tirola addresses tonight’s meeting as Sandy Lefkowitz and Jerry Minsky look on. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Lefkowitz, Steinberg and WCI member Gene Seidman, who serves on the Representative Town Meeting, agreed that the initiative has been bolstered by the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z).

Over the past month a P&Z downtown subcommittee has been meeting regularly to explore ways to revitalize the downtown through relaxed regulations. One of its focuses has been to allow a movie theater.

“When you know that there are three possible spaces and that the P&Z is interested, you know it’s a great convergence,” said Seidman.

“The point is to bring Westport’s downtown back to life,” said Minsky, who noted that he often goes to Fairfield of South Norwalk for nightlife. “We don’t spend any time in downtown Westport anymore, and that’s tragic.”

Film producer Douglas Tirola, who serves as WCI’s vice president, stressed, “Our move theater is going to have everything from private shows to special screenings.”

“What we’re trying to do is to have this balance, so that we don’t shut anybody out,” he said.WestportNow.com Image
The Fine Arts Theatres closed in 1999, leaving downtown Westport without a movie theater. WestportNow photo, copyright WestportNow 2011.

Tirola said that on Monday, July 18 WCI will host a showing of the movie “Grease” at the Levitt Pavilion. The evening will include a sing along and cars from the 1950s. He said he hopes to draw 2,000 to the free show to show potential donors that there is a hunger for movies in town.

“This is so that when we sit down with the people we are going to ask for money, we can say there is a desire in this town for a theater,” Tirola said.

Steinberg, Minsky and Larry Perlstein, who leads WCI’s marketing efforts, stressed that the best way to keep the momentum going is to spread the message via word of mouth.

“We’re all being a bit selfish in that we all love movies,” said Steinberg. “But along with that we realize that we have an opportunity to create a lasting legacy.

“If we fail, we fail as a community,” he added. “Let’s make this a very positive initiative on behalf of the Town of Westport.”

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