In the Suburbs: Sacred Heart, Kleban breathe new life into Community Theater
I was delighted to read in the Connecticut Post earlier this week that Sacred Heart University and Kleban Properties have teamed up to breathe new life into the Community Theater, a real anchor of Fairfield, which has been shuttered since 2011. When the extensive renovations are completed, hopefully in time for the theater’s 100th anniversary in 2020, Sacred Heart plans to create a cultural hub for “high profile lectures, author talks, unique films, concerts and performances to students and the community,” according to Post reporter Jordan Grice.
This astute move on Kleban’s part is the second time this developer has worked with a Fairfield-based university to develop an expanded cultural and educational presence in the community. Fairfield University Bookstore, opened nearly 8 years ago when Border’s closed, has fulfilled a goal of Fairfield U’s Jim Fitzpatrick, assistant vice president for auxiliary services, to create an in-town anchor for the university through the bookstore.
Fitzpatrick added, “The economic impact that both Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University have in our town and our state is vital and integral to the Town of Fairfield and the State of Connecticut, especially in terms of direct spending by our respective university communities. I know Sacred Heart will experience the same good will and vision from Kleban Properties that we have experienced over the past eight years. Without Al, Ken and Evan Kleban, there would be no Fairfield University Downtown bookstore. We wish Sacred Heart University best of luck with their project. But the real winner in this endeavor is the Town of Fairfield.”
When I glanced at the description of the renovation project, I noted that this will be a complete transformation of the theater with Kleban providing “white box renovations.” Of course, being the construction idiot that I am, I looked up “white box renovations and learned that “the term typically means a commercial building’s interior space, usually for an office or store, before the tenant’s remodeling. Therefore it is an unfinished interior prior to most of an office’s interior walls (except code required walls), finished floors, paint, fixtures, etc.
“In a white box, the exterior has attributes such as a finished exterior, roof, concrete floors, electricity and more. “White box” means it is ready for TIs (tenant improvements) to be executed when ready.”, according to BuildriteContruction.com.
Sacred Heart will focus its interior design on the theater’s history and create somewhat of an art-deco look. The new theater itself will contain about 400 seats.
As far as I’m concerned, this newest development will be a wonderful addition to Fairfield Center. And I’m allowing myself to sound clichéd, but “back in the day” my wife and I spent many a Friday or Saturday night at the Community for first-run movies. And it truly was a community theater.
We always bumped into neighbors or friends on theater nights and were often invited to join those folks rather than sit alone. The Community was “the” place to go long before the explosion of big box theater complexes took us away from downtown on the weekends.
I also remember a brief revival and limited renovation of The Community several years ago, which offered some hope of attracting theater goers once again. A lot of volunteers worked to rebuild the theater’s popularity, but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Over the past few years, many people who came into the bookstore on a Sunday shared great memories of the Community Theater and how much easier it was to go there than to a theater complex. They also expressed a hope that someone would eventually buy the theater and restore it. In many ways, this alliance between Sacred Heart and Kleban Properties fulfills that hope.
Waxing nostalgic, I compared the Community Theater to a similar theater, The Coed, in my neighborhood of Rogers Park on the north side of Chicago. Like the Community, it was a small theater with wonderful art deco touches. That theater was within walking distance of my house, the management showed first-run movies and the lines were always long on the weekends. I took dates there, I met many of my high school friends and it was a great place to see neighbors.
Eventually, The Coed could no longer compete with larger, newer theaters in the area. A new owner tried to keep the little theater going with lower prices and A lot of folks were heartbroken when The Coed closed, but by that time I was married and living away from the area.
I am anxious to see the gradual transformation of the Community Theater over the next year and will look forward to the new schedule of programs once the theater reopens. Sacred Heart University and Kleban Properties are making a major contribution to the changing landscape of Fairfield Center and to the arts community.