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Survey seeks to rekindle efforts to find new use for Community Theatre

Published 6:29 am, Monday, December 2, 2013


  • The town has joined with Sacred Heart University's MBA program to conduct a survey to assess development possibilities for the closed Community Theatre. Photo: Genevieve Reilly / Fairfield Citizen
    The town has joined with Sacred Heart University's MBA program to conduct a survey to assess development possibilities for the closed Community Theatre. Photo: Genevieve Reilly


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It's been two years since the Community Theatre, the landmark at the downtown corner of Post and Unquowa roads, shut its doors after efforts to operate the movie showcase as a non-profit unspooled after a decade.

The Community opened its doors to moviegoers in 1920, and added a second screen in 1979. Local resident Leo Redgate Jr. came to the rescue in 2001, when a national movie chain bowed out, with a nonprofit that showed second-run films until 2011. At the time, he hoped that closure would be temporary, allowing time for repairs and renovations. But with financial and tax problems, it never reopened.

Now, the town's Community and Economic Development Department and the MBA program at Sacred Heart University have joined forces to conduct a survey that they hope will help guide marketing efforts for the property and turn the marquee lights back on.

"We approached them," Mark Barnhart, economic development director for the town, said, about the joint venture. The survey hopes to determine, he said, what people want to see at the site to help inform potential investors.

"We don't own the theater; we don't have any kind of controlling stake," Barnhart said. "Our role has been to play matchmaker."

A search for a new tenant hasn't worked out too well so far, and both Barnhart and building owner David Pollack attribute that to amount of work the property needs.

"There has been a lot of interest expressed in the theater space," Barnhart said. "A number of people have contacted the town and the property owner about leasing the space, but there's a significant capital investment required to renovate the theater -- fairly significant, in my estimation in terms of repair costs -- and that's been the issue."

With the state of the building, "it's not a question of someone just going in there and flipping the switch," Barnhart said. "The years have not been kind to the space."

Pollack said the phone number he has posted on the marquee elicits a couple of calls a week, and he's had people inquire about using the old movie house in a variety of different ways, but "nothing comes to fruition" and put the blame on Redgate.

He said the Community Theatre Foundation that Redgate ran "left the theater in pretty shabby shape. It definitely needs a lot of cosmetic attention to get it back to a useable condition."

In an opinion piece written for the Fairfield Citizen in 2010, Redgate said it cost more than $250,000 a year to operate the theater, with rent and electricity costs accounting for more than $125,000.

Redgate said he had sought to purchase the building or get a long-term lease from Pollack before he embarked on a fundraising campaign to make repairs to the theater, but an agreement was never reached.

The survey asks participants how often they visit the downtown Fairfield and why, and offers three possible scenarios for future use of the Community building:

a traditional movie theater.

an IMAX movie theater.

a multi-purpose venue for live theatrical productions, movies, concerts and private events.

Users are asked to rank their preference, how often they would visit such a venue, and if they would be willing to join an organization to help with funding such a venture.

The online survey can be found here: http://bit.ly/1b4CPXa.