RTM approves lease, 10-year tax abatement for Community Theater
FAIRFIELD — In what marked a first for the town, the Representative Town Meeting approved a 10-year tax abatement for the Community Theater which is expected to reopen its doors next spring or summer.
“I’m emotionally involved in this decision, I’ve seen this building empty now — a disgrace to the town — for over 10 years,” Al Kleban, chairman of the property management company, said at the June 24 RTM meeting. “The beneficiary of it all will be you, the town of Fairfield, all of us.”
The theater, which opened in 1920 and shut its doors in 2011, has been in a constant state of disrepair; a yellowed, sun-dried poster promoting an event from October 25, 2011 is still displayed on the “Now Showing” banners.
According to Ken Kleban, president of the company, renovation costs will amount to approximately $3 million to $4 million in efforts to bring the building up to code with replacements of the roof, HVAC and electrical equipment.
The Klebans, at public meetings, have said that assistance from the town in the form of tax abatements would be beneficial as the structure is renovated and refitted for what could include outdoor or rooftop dining area, a garden area, paving stones with donors’ names and outdoor lighting fixtures.
Some RTM members questioned the process of tax abatements and future public hearings with the property company — particularly land use and zoning bodies — and ultimately were in favor of the tax alterations.
“That whole corner right there is what I think of when I think of Fairfield,” Pamela Iacono, RTM Minority Leader said, alluding to the theater’s marquee. “It’s not easy to give up the tax dollars to do this...but this is exactly the type of private public partnership that we ought to be looking for for his particular building.”
The 10-year tax abatement would call for a full tax exemption for the first four years followed by partial abatements for the next six years. The town would implement the full tax abatement by assessing the property’s value at $0; it would later assess it at its current value of $1.8 million after the first four years.
According to the town’s tax assessor, the 10-year tax decrease would result in a total $339,922 shortfall for the town’s coffers. Once the 10-year period concludes, the town would recoup $165,000 in tax revenues per year.
The RTM, in a unanimous vote, approved the full and partial tax abatements as well as a lease and license agreement. Two RTM members — Kerry Berchem and Brian Farnen — recused themselves from the vote on the tax abatement.
According to Town Clerk Betsy Browne, this is the first time the town has approved a tax abatement.
Barber Servile, which has been in the Post Road for over 50 years, was told it needed to vacate the building by October. Other shops, including Park Lane Opticians, No. 299 and Fresh Flower Bar have expressed worry about an uncertain future.
The company said that though it has talked to shop owners, it’s still developing plans for the upcoming renovations and as such is not sure how all the current tenants may be affected.
The town bodies’ decisions to alter the assessment value of the property, however, could have wider implications for future projects, something certain town officials are hoping does not set precedent.
The Board of Selectmen at their May 29 meeting approved the lease agreement and tax abatement unanimously though Selectman Ed Bateson warned he saw the decision as a one-off and that he didn’t “want to get into the habit of doing tax abatements.”
Back in late May, Kleban Properties and Sacred Heart University announced their plans to revamp the theater and to make it a venue for “high-profile lectures, author talks, unique films, concerts and performances” open to the entire community.
Property records show that the 1410 Post Road locale was bought by Norman Pollack in 1976 and later passed on to David Pollack in 2002. The property was appraised at $2.6 million in a 2017 valuation.
“This decision by Kleban Properties is propelled by an emotion that goes back 88.5 years,” Al Kleban said.