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FTC plans to stage expansion with second downtown theater

Updated 8:46 am, Friday, July 25, 2014

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  • Fairfield Theatre Company's plan to open a second theater in a warehouse, at left, next to StageOne on Sanford Street has won approval from the town's Board of Selectmen. Photo: Andrew Brophy / Fairfield Citizen
    Fairfield Theatre Company's plan to open a second theater in a warehouse, at left, next to StageOne on Sanford Street has won approval from the town's Board of Selectmen. Photo: Andrew Brophy

 

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The Fairfield Theatre Company's plan to open a second theater on Sanford Street has won rave reviews from the Board of Selectmen.

"This is a tremendous and exciting project," Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey said of FTC's plan to spend from $1.2 million to $1.4 million to convert a vacant 8,000-square-foot warehouse next to StageOne into a theater. "The Fairfield Theatre Company has been a real gift to the community, I think."

First Selectman Michael Tetreau said FTC, which presents musical performances and occasional plays and films at StageOne on Sanford Street, has contributed to the "economic oasis" of downtown Fairfield because people go to dinner before attending an FTC performance or go for drinks afterward.

"It's an anchor and engine for the downtown community, keeping people flowing to downtown," the first selectman said.

The project was outlined at the selectmen's July 16 meeting.

Tetreau said FTC, which opened in a town-owned building on Sanford Street about 10 years ago, had invested $500,000 in renovations to StageOne and also hosts events by nonprofit organizations at that venue.

"I see you've undertaken as a secondary commitment helping the community in a broader sense," he said to John Reid, FTC's executive director, during the meeting.

The planned second theater required approval from the Board of Selectmen because FTC's lease with the town requires the theater company to get written consent from the town before making "any alterations, installations, changes, replacements, additions or improvements" to the 70 Sanford St. property, a one-time factory that more recently housed the town's Parks and Recreation Department.

Tetreau said converting the vacant warehouse next to StageOne into a theater would not cost the town any money.

"There is no cost to the town. This is not coming out of Fairfield tax dollars," Tetreau said.

The new theater would be used for plays, films, musical performances and "cultural and community events," and members of FTC's board of directors have contributed 50 percent of the renovation cost to date, Reid said. He said the state had committed $100,000 toward fire prevention at the new theater and FTC "will be sprinklering the entire structure."

Michael Smith, an architect donating his services to FTC, said the warehouse is "essentially just an empty shell at the moment."

In a memo to Tetreau, Reid said improvements at the warehouse, in addition to a sprinkler system, would include a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, bathrooms, a service kitchen, mezzanine level, acoustic engineering, sound system, stage and lights.

Smith said the new theater's seating wouldn't be permanent and its stage would be removable. He said the warehouse "would remain largely the same from the exterior."

Renovations to create the new theater are expected to be done six to nine months after FTC receives permits for the work, according to Reid's memo. He estimated the town could receive $50,000 in revenue from the new theater within the next three years.

Now, the town receives nearly $48,000 a year from FTC under a $2-per-ticket revenue-sharing agreement, Reid said.

"We believe that's going to double in about three years," he said. FTC, "as a good-faith gesture," also has offered to give the town 5 percent of revenue paid from leasing the second theater to for-profit groups or individuals, Reid said.

Revenue-sharing from renting the second theater wouldn't apply to nonprofits because FTC gives those groups "a significant discount," Reid said. He said FTC now hosts about 15 to 20 fundraisers a year for nonprofits.

In his memo to Tetreau, Reid wrote, "Combined with the additional ticket fee revenue, we project that the income to the town will increase approximately $50,000 a year within 24 to 36 months of completion."

"The surrounding businesses in the town also will continue to reap significant benefits from the business generated by FTC patrons," Reid added in the memo.

FTC's 225-seat StageOne now hosts about 175 shows a year that draw a total of 40,000 customers, Reid told the selectmen. FTC estimates that its customers on an annual basis spend a total of $1 million a year at nearby businesses, he said.

"Today, StageOne is really one of the most highly regarded arts venues in the region," Reid said.

Tetreau said expanding FTC into the vacant warehouse had been talked about from the very beginning of the theater company's lease with the town. Reid said those plans were put on hold after the economic crash in 2008.

Reid said FTC believes the new theater will have a "very positive" impact on the town. "I think it will expand Fairfield's reputation as a very vibrant, exciting place to live," he said.

Reid said he moved to Fairfield four years ago and the town's "thriving arts scene" has become a factor in people choosing to buy a home in Fairfield.