After last Thursday night’s meeting about the future of the Bay Street Theatre, we, like many in Sag Harbor, walked away with a sense of foreboding. The forum made it crystal clear — there is a very real possibility Sag Harbor Village could lose Bay Street Theatre. Speaking not only as the local newspaper, but as a Main Street business and, individually, members of this community, we feel the loss would be a huge one for the village — both emotionally and financially.
The theater’s current lease expires next year, and Bay Street is entertaining a rather attractive offer from the Village of Southampton to take over the current Parrish Art Museum space when the museum vacates the building late this year for a new home of its own in Water Mill.
Whether you’re a fan of the stage or not, the fact remains, Bay Street Theatre is and has always been a critical economic driver in Sag Harbor. As many have noted, Sag Harbor was a much different place when Bay Street Theatre opened its doors on Long Wharf over two decades ago, and their arrival largely coincided (and in many ways brought about) a much needed renaissance in the village, and it aided the community in transforming into a cultural destination on the East End.
That evolution, in part, has helped the downtown thrive and remain vibrant, even as many communities around us have suffered under the weight of development and economic pressure. New residents have flocked to Sag Harbor, as have businesses — and we cannot imagine there are many real estate brokers who have not used Bay Street Theatre, and all it offers the community, as a selling point to close on the sale of a house or two in the 11963 zip code.
But to lose the theatre would be not just an economic loss — an emotional void would most certainly be felt as well.
There are a few institutions in Sag Harbor that define our downtown and give the village a character that is undoubtedly unique — The American Hotel, The Variety Store, Schiavoni’s Market, to name a few. What would Sag Harbor Village be without these anchors, or without Bay Street Theatre?
We really can’t fathom the answer.
We appreciate why Southampton Village would have such a keen interest in wooing a world-class theater like Bay Street to its own downtown. Not only does a theater of this magnitude support local business, but its very life gives credence to the health of a Main Street.
At Thursday’s meeting there were few options in Sag Harbor that did not come with a list of caveats, making them largely unviable for Bay Street Theatre to consider. In this dire hour, we encourage the Village of Sag Harbor to consider any and all options it has at its disposal to keep the theater in our community.
Southampton Village, which has shared a public-private partnership with the Parrish Art Museum for many years, recognizes they have a facility that has and will continue to draw people to its downtown. The value of having an arts institution like Bay Street Theatre in its midst is not lost on them, and while we don’t believe it is lost on our own village, we would love to see an acknowledgement of that evidenced in the board of trustees becoming active participants in helping the theater find a new home.
We understand the Bay Street Theatre board has again committed itself to vetting every potential property in Sag Harbor and we do applaud them for that. For purely selfish reasons, while constructing a theater at Pierson High School or on the Schiavoni property would neither be ideal solutions in terms of their closeness to Main Street, we would much rather see Bay Street go to either location and remain in Sag Harbor than go to Southampton.
While we understand that the National Grid-owned site, now leased by the village for parking, may pose challenges, it was the one space downtown where we could envision a Bay Street Theatre. Being downtown is critical to the symbiotic relationship the theater has with Main Street and, if at all viable, we would like to see the Village of Sag Harbor entertain a serious effort to negotiate the sale and lease of that site to Bay Street Theatre. The reality is the parking lost would be nowhere near the losses we would suffer if Bay Street moved to Southampton Village.