Community Theater revival a joint effort with million-dollar investments, tax abatements
FAIRFIELD — After being shut down for the last eight years, the Community Theater on the Post Road is expected to reopen next spring or summer as the Sacred Heart University Community Theater.
Sacred Heart officials, town representatives and residents gathered at a morning conference Tuesday on 1410 Post Road for the official announcement of the renovation and long-term efforts.
“This project is another example of how a university gives back to the community where it resides. We plan to turn this into a contemporary venue for the university and the community while maintaining much of the classical features that have been part of downtown Fairfield for 100 years,” Sacred Heart University President John Petillo said.
Kleban Properties is in the process of acquiring the theater building for an estimated $3.85 million and the university is signing a 10-year lease with the company to turn the site into a venue for “high-profile lectures, author talks, unique films, concerts and performances” open to the entire community.
“Kleban Properties will be looking to the town of Fairfield for assistance in various forms to ensure that this exciting opportunity becomes reality,” Ken Kleban, president of the eponymous company, said.
That assistance comes in the way of full and partial tax abatements — approved unanimously by the Board of Selectman at their special meeting Wednesday — for the next 10 years.
According to Kleban, the theater is in need of what would be at least $3 million in renovation to bring the building to code with replacements to the roofing, HVAC and electrical structures.
According to Kleban’s presentation, the acquisition of the building comes at $3.85 million and with an additional $3.4 million in hard and soft costs. The company president is hoping to raise $1 million in community funding while the rest is provided through investor equity and loan capital.
A full tax abatement — essentially assessing the theater building’s value at $0 — Kleban argued, would help mitigate the high costs of renovation and investment to the building.
A partial tax abatement for the other six years would fix the property’s value at its current assessment of $1.8 million.
The 10-year decrease in tax revenue from the full and partial tax abatements, according to the town’s tax assessor, would be $339,922. Once the 10-year period concludes, the town could expect almost $165,000 in tax revenue per year.
“Restoring the dilapidated theater will require a labor of love and money,” Kleban said, noting that Sacred Heart University was also looking at investing $2 million in the theater on lighting and other equipment.
Tax abatements are not the only thing Kleban is asking from town officials.
Further requests included a “dollar neutral change to the existing lease of town property in front of the building”, 20 parking spaces within the Sherman Green parking lot and support from the town’s Office of Economic Development for signage and other regulatory approvals.
The Board of Selectmen approved Kleban’s request though with some caveats and suggestions for future commercial investment endeavors.
“I do see this as a one-off,” Selectman Ed Bateson said. “I don’t want to get into the habit of doing tax abatements.”
The proposal now heads to the Representative Town Meeting for approval and construction plans are expected to appear at hearings with other town bodies like Planning and Zoning in the coming months.
“I am thrilled that the Community Theater, which has long been an iconic landmark in our town filled with special memories for so many of us, will finally be reopened,” Tetreau said.
Property records show that the 1410 Post Road locale was bought by Norman Pollack in 1976 and then by David Pollack in 2002. According to a 2017 valuation, the property was appraised at $2.6 million.
“Thank you to Kleban Properties and Sacred Heart University for saving this historic gem which will add to the vibrancy of our downtown and help Fairfield’s art and cultural scene continue to flourish,” Tetreau added.
The Community Theater first opened its doors in 1920 and has been shut down since 2011. According to officials, the theater will see a full-scale renovation and will have at least 400 seats by next year.