While professing a devotion to staying in the Village of Sag Harbor, in the same breath Bay Street Theatre administrators and board members made it clear Thursday night that a move to what will soon be the former Parrish Art Museum in Southampton Village may be the best option in the wake of the theater’s decision not to renew its lease following the upcoming summer season.
After 21 years on Long Wharf, the theatre administration said it has a “self imposed” 30 to 60 day deadline to make a decision on where its new home will be in 2013.
The revelation came near the close of an emotional meeting with over 150 residents of the village who anxiously crowded Bay Street Theatre to hear about its potential fate, and brainstormed ideas in an effort to keep the theatre anchored in Sag Harbor. Facing a reality that there are few viable options for the theatre in the village, Bay Street’s creative director, Murphy Davis, said moving to Southampton was the best offer on the table, barring the generosity of hefty donations from those committed to keeping the theater a part of the fabric of Sag Harbor.
Bay Street’s executive director, Tracy Mitchell, stressed that the theatre’s impending move is not the result of its rent, which is controlled by landlord Patrick Malloy III. Mitchell said the theatre was currently paying $185,000 a year to Malloy, which, she said, is market price for the space. However, between that rent, housing for actors and production crews and a space for set construction and storage, Bay Street Theatre spends a total of $500,000 in rent alone, said Mitchell.
It’s short-term lease, added Mitchell, minimizes the amount of grants the theater is awarded and scares off investors looking to give money to an institution with a solid home.
“Let me be very clear about this,” she said. “We want to stay here in Sag Harbor, if we can.”
Looking at Sag Harbor Village, Mitchell said the theatre has explored renting or purchasing the former Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street, but that the space is not for sale and if they did lease the building, the Catholic Church “would have to bless anything that went on there.”
“That means no ‘Betty’s Summer Vacation’,” joked Davis, referring to the controversial play Bay Street offered last summer.
The theatre has also looked at the possibility of moving into the Sag Harbor Cinema, which has been on the market with an asking price of $12 million for several years now. With a price tag like that, said Mitchell, the concept seems like “a non-starter.”
The National Grid lot, where the former KeySpan blue gas ball once sat on Long Island Avenue, was also explored, said Mitchell, but the Village of Sag Harbor does not own the property and there are questions about what can be done there.
Mitchell said they have also looked at the Schiavoni property on Jermain Avenue, but that there were code questions and wetlands issues making it an unattractive option. Lastly, administrators at Bay Street have talked to the Sag Harbor School District about constructing a theater at Pierson High School.
Outside of Sag Harbor, Bay Street has been approached by Rechler Equity Partners, which would build the organization a new theatre in a business park at the old Grabeski Airport in Westhampton. The Parrish Art Museum, which hopes to open its new facility in Water Mill next year, has also offered Bay Street a space in its new home.
And then there is the proposal from Southampton Village to have Bay Street Theatre serve as the anchor tenant in the proposed Southampton Center of the Arts at 25 Jobs Lane (in what will soon be the former Parrish Art Museum).
“And being completely pragmatic and taking sentiment out of it, certainly the old Parrish space in Southampton, for Bay Street, is the most practical and feasible option,” said Davis.
On Tuesday, Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley confirmed Bay Street is his first choice for a main tenant for the center.
Epley said it is his goal is to have the Southampton Center of the Arts operational by the summer of 2013, a perfect timeline, he noted, for Bay Street.
In addition to basic building repairs, Epley said the first phase would include the construction of a café and outdoor theatre space. New construction, including the creation of a new 400-seat theatre, has also been planned.
Additions and construction would be funded through private donations, added Epley and Bay Street Theatre would be offered a long-term, possibly 49-year lease, at little cost.
“The reality is you need leases like that for arts institutions to continue,” said Epley. “If they are successful here, the village is successful, my merchants are successful, my restaurants are successful, and we have created a place people feel excited to come to.”
While the village has also entertained discussions with faculty at the Stony Brook Southampton campus, Epley said he envisions a partnership would be forged between the college and Bay Street, should the theater come to the site.
On Thursday night, Bay Street board member Gregory Ferraris said as a business owner he sees how critical the theater is to the village’s economy.
“I don’t think there is any coincidence that the success of Sag Harbor has coincided with the success of the Bay Street Theatre,” said Ferraris, former mayor of the village.
However, while ticket sales have increased, he said, since 2007 private donations to Bay Street has dropped a whopping $700,000.
“The bottom line is the way we are going to stay in Sag Harbor is going to have to come from some major donations stepping up to the plate because we can go to other spaces while we build a new space,” said Davis.
Peter Solow, an art teacher in the Sag Harbor School District, said the school was in dire need of new theater facilities and has formal plans for a 400-seat theater space in an existing courtyard at Pierson High School. He suggested Bay Street could partner with the school to privately raise funding and become a resident theater company in the space.
School board member Chris Tice said there was excitement about the prospect and that discussions would “accelerate” in coming weeks.
Resident John Landes wondered whether a benefit district could be created to help fund Bay Street Theatre.
“It could support the debt that would be incurred in building a new facility in Sag Harbor,” said Landes.
“We all share the same feeling that Bay Street Theatre is critical to the future economic health of the village,” said New York State Assemblyman and Sag Harbor resident Fred W. Thiele, Jr.
But with no immediate solution available, Thiele said he believes a short-term plan should be devised for the theater while a long-term plan in Sag Harbor is explored.
Board president Frank Filipo said that if a permanent solution in the village became clear, the board would look at a new lease at its current location if construction were not imminent.
Bay Street board member and real estate broker Jane Holden said she believed the Schiavoni property on Jermain was a viable solution, noting the five-acre parcel is for sale for $2.5 million. While zoned residential, Holden said she believed the theater could get a variance from the village to open a theater there. In total, she estimated developing a theater on the site would cost between $6 and $8 million.
“We did say the goal and desire is to stay in Sag Harbor, but the bigger priority is that Bay Street survives,” said Mitchell.