Stratford delegation says Shakespeare property in line for $3 million from state

Photo of Ethan Fry

STRATFORD — The eventual redevelopment of the Shakespeare theater site could be aided by $3 million in state funds included in a bonding package last week.

The money still needs to be signed off on by Gov. Ned Lamont and the State Bond Commission, and isn’t associated with any specific redevelopment plans yet.

And the town has not yet taken firm steps toward a permanent redevelopment of the property where the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre burned down two years ago.

But lawmakers representing the town celebrated the first step in the process.

“Over two years ago, Stratford was devastated to lose an important piece of history,” state Sen. Kevin Kelly said in a prepared statement. “When the Shakespeare Theatre burned down, our entire community came together wanting to take action. This investment from the state is a key step in revitalizing the theater property, and preserving a piece of local, state, national and global history.”

“The theater fire was a devastating loss of not only a historic piece of Stratford, but a unique cultural landmark of worldwide renown,” state Rep. Ben McGorty said. “I am appreciative of the members of the General Assembly for recognizing the importance of this redevelopment project to the Town of Stratford and to its residents.”

State Reps. Phil Young and Joe Gresko said they were happy to work with their local GOP colleagues.

“It was a pleasure working with the Stratford delegation on this pair of projects which are iconic for our town,” Gresko said. “When these funds are finally allocated, the Shakespeare theater property will continue its revitalization and comeback.”

Since January a twice-monthly market has been hosted at the site. On Sunday, the market will host art and music performances in recognition of Make Music Day, with more performances set for Monday.

Two task forces reviewed possible long-term uses for the property. One group has proposed building a re-creation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater there.

But at a meeting of the Stratford Redevelopment Agency last month, officials said the town isn’t quite ready to move forward with a specific plan.

Any development would have to conform to deed restrictions imposed when the town acquired the property from the state in 2005 mandating the property “remain accessible to the general public for their enjoyment,” and the town “make reasonable efforts to utilize the premises for public entertainment purposes.” In addition, 20 percent must be open space.

Redevelopment Agency Chairman George Perham said many interested users have reached out to the town.

But he and Economic Development Director Mary Dean said the town won’t be putting out a request for proposals anytime soon, as it recently did with the former Center School site.

“It’s just not there yet,” Perham said.

“If we put together an RFP, it has to be able to let people know what we’re looking for,” Dean said. “At this juncture, there’s different trains of thought out there.”

In addition to the state money, the Town Council’s agenda Monday included $200,000 for upgrades at the property among $11.7 million in capital improvements currently being reviewed by the council’s ordinance committee.