No show: Would-be Community Theater developer stymied in plan of 'great value'
Ken Kleban is frustrated.
The local real estate investor and developer is prepared to sign a long-term lease and invest lots of money in the shuttered Community Theatre downtown, but he can't get the property owner to agree.
"We have a plan that we know would add great value to the downtown," said Kleban, whose firm is one of the largest commercial property owners in town. "We're prepared to invest a significant amount of capital; all we need is a long-term lease."
Kleban said he envisions a "space that would bring great excitement" downtown, but "unfortunately" he can't get an agreement with owner David Pollack. He said the plans would likely incorporate some sort of theater component.
Repeated phone calls to Pollack have not been returned and First Selectman Mike Tetreau expressed his own frustration with Pollack's lack of communication. Tetreau said he and others have also tried calling Pollack in an effort to get him to at least discuss a potential deal with Kleban.
Tetreau said allowing the iconic theater to continue to fall into disrepair will damage the Pollack family's reputation in town.
The pipes for the building's steam boiler are failing, according to the town's Building Department. Firefighters dispatched to investigate the report of steam filling the lobby last month found a trench dug in the lobby floor to facilitate the pipe repairs.
The venerable theater opened at one of downtown's busiest intersections in the 1920s.
The website Cinema Treasures states the Community first was a vaudeville house in 1923, and later began showing movies in 1929. It underwent "extensive" renovations in 1933 that included construction of the balcony and the art deco marquee.
A commenter on the Cinema Treasure website, however, said the movie theater opened in 1920 at 859 Post Road, near where the Bob's stores shopping plaza is now, and later moved to the current location at the corner of Post and Unquowa roads.
An early postcard from the Fairfield Museum and History Center shows the theater with a vertical sign on the side of the building, and not the now-familiar, neon-lit marquee. The museum states the theater was built in 1922 on what was swamp land called Hyde's Pond.
But most residents now probably remember the movie theater from the days it was run by Loew's Cineplex, and a second screen was added in 1979.
In 2001, Loew's shut the theater doors, and local developer Leo Redgate leased the theater and ran it as a nonprofit that showcased second-run and specialty films. It was staffed by student volunteers until 2011, when the theater went dark once again.
It's been for lease ever since, with Pollack's phone number posted on the marquee.
In 2011, Pollack told the Fairfield Citizen that Redgate and the foundation he established were to blame for the theater's condition.
He said they "left it in pretty shabby shape. It definitely needs a lot of cosmetic attention to get it back to usable condition."
But Redgate said at the time that he wasn't willing to embark on a capital campaign unless he could secure a long-term lease. He said it cost more than $250,000 a year to run the movie theater, with rent and electricity accounting for about $125,000 of that amount.