Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor Cinema"

Pierson/Bay Street Meeting Sparks More Conversation, Draws No Conclusions

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By Claire Walla

Finally, the two boards came to the same table.

On Tuesday, January 31, school officials and Bay Street Theatre board members held a meeting on the Pierson Middle/High School campus to discuss the potential for a collaboration between the two. The idea of the Bay Street Theatre collaborating with the Sag Harbor School District to create a new theater venue has been floated for a few years. And with Bay Street’s impending move from its current location on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, discussions have been spurred with greater urgency in the last few weeks.

The dialogue oscillated in scope for much of the two-hour meeting, wavering back and forth between small details (like whether it’s possible to obtain a liquor license on a school campus since Bay Street serves alcohol), and larger ideas, such as the school and theater working together to build an entirely new performing arts center in Sag Harbor.

But, while no board member on either side of the aisle completely put the kibosh on the potential for collaboration, there were aspects of this hypothetical partnership that raised red flags for both.

“I don’t want to throw any cold water on the issue, but I can’t possibly see how [an independent theater] can be in this school district, in this area,” school board member Walter Wilcoxen said.

Based on a memo the school district received from its attorney, Tom Volz, Wilcoxen pointed out some of the smaller issues, like limited parking and storage capacity.

But Tracy Mitchell, Bay Street Theatre’s executive director, expressed some concerns with the overall picture.

“One of the biggest issues for us, from a creative perspective, is we need to be able to have complete control over what we produce,” she said.

Though Mitchell and the theater’s creative director, Murphy Davis, assured the school that no expletives would be used on any signage related to the theater, some of the theater’s productions can be a bit, well, “racy.”

While Davis said there are elements to what Bay Street does now that could shift to conform to a different production model — for example, the theater could stop selling alcohol if it managed to secure other revenue sources — creative freedom is non-negotiable.

“We can do some pretty racy content,” he continued. “It’s imperative that we don’t feel hemmed in by that.”

Then there’s the time frame.

At best, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto said the process would take three years to complete. (Later, he explained that the time frame would more realistically take up to five years.) It would take six months for the school’s architect to draw-up a new design and then for the state education department to review the plans, another three months for the school to bid the project, then at least a year to construct the building.

“We’re talking two years after voter approval,” he continued. “And voters would have to approve such a project.”

The district’s current design for a 415-seat theater comes in at an estimated $12 million. Even if private funds were used for the project, Dr. Gratto said state aid would still kick-in for 10 percent of the cost, but that would trigger the need to put the project up to a vote.

Mitchell said the theater has a certain degree of flexibility for discussing future plans because it’s not scheduled to leave its current space until spring of 2013.

“The board would be able to back us renewing our current lease if we were working toward a pre-approved plan,” she said. “But, what we can’t do is say it’s going to take us another year to figure out whether we can get through these hurdles, and in the process lose all our other options.”

According to Mitchell, the theater is actively pursuing all possible options, including in Sag Harbor the Schiavoni property on Jermain Avenue, the National Grid lot on Long Island Avenue, the Sag Harbor Cinema, and in Southampton Village the soon-to-be vacant Parrish Art Museum space on Jobs Lane. At this point, Mitchell said the theater has put together several committees to further explore these options.

“It doesn’t sound like [the school] is going to be at the forefront,” Davis stated at the end of the meeting. Besides issues of parking, storage space and creative control, he said the time frame doesn’t seem viable.

“Just what I’m hearing tonight, it makes me uncomfortable that we’re going to have to wait,” he said.

And while nestling into the Pierson campus may seem like a dream sequence too riddled with legal complications to become a reality, school board members were energized by the idea of a potential collaboration off-campus.

Dr. Gratto directed interests to the piece of empty land directly across the street from Pierson, at the intersection of Division and Marsden streets, where the Trunzo family owns four parcels. According to community member John Landes, who’s already investigated the site, the cost would roughly total $4 million — just to purchase the land.

As for the overall idea of collaboration, Bay Street Board Member Robbie Stein said, “When you look at it, there are a lot of problems. But, on some level, starting this dialogue is bringing to the community the idea of: is there a place for arts in the community?”

The Bay Street Board will meet again next week to further discuss all its options.

Cinema Sign is the Icon, Not the Building

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The “Sag Harbor” sign located on the Sag Harbor Cinema is what the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board would like to see preserved as a historic landmark, not the whole building or its façade as was discussed at a village board of trustees meeting last week.

On Monday, November 24, the ARB adopted a new resolution to see the Sag Harbor Cinema sign protected as a landmark, and clarified the reasons the board feels the sign is worthy of such a distinction.

The board’s chairman, Cee Scott Brown, also defended himself against Sag Harbor Cinema owner Gerald Mallow’s accusations last week that Brown stood to benefit from the designation in his position as a real estate broker.

At the request of Mayor Greg Ferraris, the ARB adopted a new resolution on the landmark designation, noting the sign, not the building, was what it would like to see protected. In August, the board had adopted a previous resolution seeking a landmark designation for the building’s façade.

The matter was before the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees last week, during which Mallow’s attorney contested the concept on several levels, arguing the ARB had not specifically explained why it would want the designation. She also charged there was a possible conflict of interest in Brown introducing and voting on a resolution as he is vice president of Corcoran Real Estate Group, which has the sole listing, she said, for the $12 million Mallow is seeking in the sale of the cinema.

Mallow has owned the theatre for 30 years, and also cited the controversy regarding his removal of the Sag Harbor Cinema sign four years ago as part of the impetus for his reasoning to oppose landmark designation for the façade. Mallow had intended to replace the sign, but some members of the community spearheaded an effort to have a replica of the sign created instead, expressing concerns the sign Mallow intended for the cinema was too different from the iconic art deco sign that had lit Main Street for years. Residents of Sag Harbor ultimately paid for the new sign, which adorns the cinema façade today.

On Monday, in its new resolution, the board clarified that the sign “Sag Harbor” on the façade of the Sag Harbor Cinema “is likely the most well known image of special historical value, effectively an icon” in the village business district. The board added that it finds the sign “Sag Harbor” to be “unique and certainly one-of-a-kind in this community,” and representative of “an architectural style which, familiar to residents, visitors and passersby, is especially representative of the historic character of the Village Business zoning district.”

“The board finds and concludes that the failure to cause the designation of the sign ‘Sag Harbor’ on the façade of the Sag Harbor Cinema would be a loss of a landmark for the property owner and the community, a loss that Article 15 of the village code was enacted to prevent,” ends the resolution.

Brown vehemently denied his position at Corcoran creates a conflict of interest, noting that despite statements made by Mallow and his attorney, Corcoran is not the only real estate firm listing the property. Rather it is an open listing, available to any one who can sell the property at its requested $12 million price tag.

Brown added that Gale Conetta, not himself, is the broker who would handle the sale on Corcoran’s behalf and he personally has no intention of selling the building.

Brown also noted that Mallow and his own attorney had argued in front of the board of trustees that designating the façade a landmark would devalue the property.

“It was then brought up that if the landmark was a detriment to the building, I would certainly be working against myself,” noted Brown.

The board of trustees is expected to revisit the matter at its next meeting on Tuesday, December 9 at 6 p.m. The next historic preservation and architectural review board meeting is on Thursday, December 11. 

Cinema Owner Fights Landmark Status

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During his attorney’s first arguments last Wednesday, it was difficult to discern whether Sag Harbor Cinema owner Gerald Mallow believed having his iconic theatre deemed historically significant would make it harder for him to sell the building or bring in possible buyers.

However, one thing was certain — Mallow was not pleased with the concept. He was uncertain what designating the façade of the theatre as historic would ultimately accomplish and cited a battle over the replacement of the Sag Harbor Cinema sign four years ago as the impetus for his concern.

On Wednesday, November 12 the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees held a public hearing on whether or not to landmark the façade of the Sag Harbor Cinema. In August, the historic preservation and architectural review board (ARB) asked the trustees to consider designating the façade as a historic landmark. Shortly after Mallow listed the commercial building for sale for $12 million.

Attorney Diane Leveriere, representing Mallow, argued to the board that the ARB made no rationale for why it would want the village to designate the cinema as a historic landmark.

“It’s arbitrary,” she concluded.

In the minutes of the August ARB meeting where that board passed a resolution asking the board of trustees to consider the designation, the board cites the cinema as “an important feature of architectural character of the village” and calls the façade “of historical interest and worthy of preservation.”

But a more pressing issue for Mallow, according to his attorney, was that the chairman of the ARB, Cee Scott Brown, is the senior vice president of the Corcoran Group, the only listed broker for the Sag Harbor Cinema sale. Leveriere said this posed a potential conflict of interest and that as such Brown should have recused himself from the resolution as he could stand to benefit from the cinema’s sale.

“Is it your position that the designation benefits the property or is a detriment to the property,” asked village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr.

Leveriere countered it was her position that if there is any benefit for Brown in the sale of the property it should be disclosed.

“Maybe I am missing something here,” said Mayor Greg Ferraris. “What is the concern here? Are you worried there will be an adverse economic impact?”

“Yes, that is a concern,” said Leveriere.

Leveriere outlined a section of the village code that states property owners must seek ARB approval for any construction, reconstruction, demolition, or to move the structure, but Thiele was quick to point out that applies not only to historic landmarks in the village, but also structures in the historic district, like the cinema.

“I think what we are stating is there is no additional standards that would apply to a landmark as opposed to a historic district,” said Ferraris, later adding it was his view that landmark status would enhance the value of the property.

Leveriere countered it was rare that landmarked buildings saw an enhanced value to their property as they come with limitations.

“I am not aware of any limitations at this point,” replied Ferraris.

Generally, the addition of a landmark status to a façade or structure simply provides greater protection for that feature, but according to Thiele there are also differences in the standards the village holds for a façade in the historic district and a façade that has been designated a landmark. Unlike a façade in the historic district, for a designated façade there is no default provision if the ARB fails to act on an application. For all applications in front of the ARB, if that board fails to act within 45 days of reviewing an application, the application is automatically granted in favor of the applicant. This does not occur if the façade or building is landmarked. Also, said Thiele, there is a lesser variance standard for the zoning board of appeals to weigh for landmarked buildings, meaning it’s easier to get variances to make improvements or changes on a landmarked building.

Regardless, Mallow said he was “a little upset” and “suspicious,” recounting how residents gathered to save the Sag Harbor Cinema sign after he sought to have it replaced in 2004. Residents, led by the efforts of Brenda Siemer-Scheider, held fundraisers to have a replica of the iconic sign made after it was discovered Mallow intended to replace the sign with one that was not identical to the art deco original. Mallow also cited Brown’s position on the ARB and as a Corcoran realtor as another concern, despite stating moments later that landmarked properties that he has dealt with are generally sold at below their original value.

Lastly, Mallow read a statement saying he would be willing to talk with town officials and community leaders about working out a way to retain the theatre.

While another public hearing is likely to be held in December, Siemer-Scheider noted she likes to think the attention garnered in 2004 over the cinema sign was a boon for both Mallow and the theatre.

“With pride I will say we already designated it,” she said, adding a group was forming in the village to find a way to keep the theatre in Sag Harbor.

On Friday, Ferraris said the board of trustees would send a letter to the ARB asking they review their recommendation and seek only to have the cinema sign itself designated as a landmark, as that is the feature he believes is more iconic on the structure. Should the village designate the sign as a landmark it would not be able to be moved or replaced without ARB approval.

As for the issue of Brown and a potential conflict of interest, Ferraris said the village attorney was looking into the matter.

“We are certainly not going to do anything that would harm Mr. Mallow economically,” he said. “That is one thing I wanted to be sure of and in discussing this with counsel and in my own research, I do not believe there is any adverse economic effect to this designation. And if there is, I would love to be informed about it.”




Bridge to be Named for Fallen Marine Next Month

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Members of the First Battalion Ninth Marine Regiment are returning to United States soil this week following their deployment to Iraq, and in just one month’s time will travel to Sag Harbor to pay tribute to one of their fallen brothers.

This week, the family of Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter announced a formal dedication and unveiling of a public memorial at the foot of the Sag Harbor-North Haven Bridge will be held on Saturday, November 15. The bridge, following state approval, will also officially be renamed in honor of Haerter and veterans across the country.

Lance Cpl. Haerter, a 2006 Pierson High School graduate, was killed outside the city of Ramadhi in Iraq in April. A U.S. Marine, Haerter had just reached the one-month mark of his first tour when a suicide bomber drove into the checkpoint he was guarding and detonated. His actions and sacrifice, said military officials, saved over 30 marines that day, as well as over 50 Iraqi police.

Following Haerter’s death, which rocked the Sag Harbor community, East End residents and government leaders rallied in support of the construction of a memorial granite obelisk to honor the young marine. The monument will be placed on the waterfront, next to Windmill Beach, on land donated by the Village of Sag Harbor.

In May, a bill co-sponsored by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and State Senator Ken LaValle passed, allowing the Sag Harbor-North Haven Bridge to be renamed “The Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge,” honoring both Haerter and veterans before him.

Members of Haerter’s battalion, some of who were in Ramadi with Haerter the day he was killed, will join the family, community and government leaders on November 15. According to Haerter’s father, Christian, the dedication was planned specifically to fall on a day those men could attend and the proximity to Veteran’s Day, on November 11, is purely coincidental.

“It just worked out this way,” he said on Wednesday. “We also didn’t feel we wanted to steal any thunder from the veterans, even though Jordan is a veteran now. Veteran’s Day is their day, and we really wanted this to be separate. It ultimately had to do with making sure it was a day the battalion could be there.”

On Tuesday, October 14, the Sag Harbor Board of Trustees gave its approval for the ceremony, which is expected to include guest speakers and a fly by, weather permitting.

Sag Harbor Cinema

In other community related news coming out of the Sag Harbor Board of Trustees on Tuesday night, the board passed a resolution directing village clerk Sandra Schroeder to contact Sag Harbor Cinema owner Gerald Mallow and inform him the board will hold a public hearing on granting the cinema building’s façade historic landmark status.

In August, the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board passed a resolution asking the board of trustees to give the façade, already located in Sag Harbor’s historic district, landmark designation. Just prior to this request, Mallow placed the cinema on the real estate market, in one advertisement seeking as much as $12 million for the Main Street, Sag Harbor locale.

On Tuesday, mayor Greg Ferraris said his only concern was ensuring the designation would not negatively impact the owner of the building.

Sag Harbor Village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. reminded Ferraris that as a building in the historic district, the cinema was already subject to much of the same regulation as it would be as a historic landmark. Without ARB approval, persons are prohibited from altering any façade of a historic building, or any building in the historic district for that matter, and must also seek board approval for any construction, reconstruction, demolition, or to move the structure.

The Board of Trustees will hold a public hearing on the designation at its next meeting, on Wednesday, November 12 at 6 p.m. 

Historic Cinema Has $12 Million Price Tag

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Two weeks ago, owner Gerald Mallow confirmed the Sag Harbor Cinema, one of the village’s most iconic facades and businesses, is for sale, and this week a price has been unveiled.

According to a real estate listing, Sag Harbor’s only theatre is available for $12 million. Residents in the village first became aware the cinema was for sale after a voice recording announcing movie times ended with a request that those interested in renting, leasing or buying the historic theatre should contact the owner via e-mail. The recording has since been changed.

The Sag Harbor Cinema has historically screened independent, foreign and art house movies, unlike neighboring theaters, which primarily show blockbuster or mainstream films. In 2004, Sag Harbor residents rallied, and successfully fundraised to restore in-kind the cinema sign – seen by many as a landmark of the village – after word spread the sign would be removed and replaced.

Sag Harbor Village attorney Anthony Tohill said a proposed zoning code in the village – which the village has embarked on to update what officials have called an antiquated code and help protect the mom-and-pop feel of Main Street – actually presents advantages for Mallow over the current code. Movie theatres are permitted in the Village Business District under the proposed code, while the cinema is non-conforming under the current code. In addition to a movie theatre, theoretically, the space could be converted to any permitted use in the Village Business District although any new business would be subject to proposed size restrictions. He added that under guidelines for the Sag Harbor historic preservation and architectural review board, if the sign is deemed a historic feature, it should be preserved.


Iconic Cinema Is For Sale

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Independent film aficionados eager to catch the newest flick at the iconic art-house move theatre, Sag Harbor Cinema, may have been surprised this week to learn the theatre is for sale after calling the cinema for times for this week’s film “Tell No One.”

On the Sag Harbor Cinema’s answering machine, following a description of the French thriller, callers interested in renting, leasing or buying the theatre are asked to e-mail sagharborcinema@aol.com.

On Tuesday, Sag Harbor Cinema owner Gerald Mallow confirmed the theatre was in fact for sale, but said he had no further comment at this time.

“I would like to say God Bless Gerry Mallow for trying to keep it going for as long as he has,” said Sag Harbor resident and photographer Brenda Siemer on Wednesday, who, four years ago, rallied residents to preserve the iconic sign that hangs on the front of the building.

The Sag Harbor Cinema primarily screens independent and foreign films, rather than blockbuster and mainstream movies seen in neighboring theaters. Siemer recalled a time when art-house and independent theatre owners had a plethora of diverse and exceptional independent films available at prices an independent theatre owner could afford. That has all changed with the evolution of the film business, she noted, with Harvey Weinstein expanding the independent film market to a point where films are being purchased for millions of dollars. Larger movie theater chains, like United Artists, have also made it increasingly difficult for smaller cinema’s to survive, she said.

“He’s held it together for so many years and I say that is a good thing,” said Siemer.

Siemer is no stranger to the Sag Harbor Cinema or its owner, after she was famously involved in an effort to save the Sag Harbor Cinema neon sign that adorns the theater’s façade. In May of 2004, Siemer and playwright Joe Pintauro rescued the sign after construction workers told them it was destined for the dump. The sign was reportedly in great need of repair. Mallow later reported it stolen to Sag Harbor Village Police, although charges were never filed. Mallow agreed to place a replica of the sign, rather than a different replacement, on the building after area residents mounted a fundraising campaign to save the sign. 

The Village of Sag Harbor is currently under a commercial moratorium while officials re-write the village’s zoning code. The zoning code re-write has been undertaken, in part, to save the character of Sag Harbor’s Main Street – one dominated by independent retailers rather than luxury chain stores, which dominate nearby village centers like East Hampton.

According to Sag Harbor Village attorney Anthony Tohill the proposed code presents advantages for Mallow as movie theaters are permitted in the village business district, while the cinema is non-conforming under the current code. Tohill said the building could also become anything that is permitted in the village business district. Antique shops, book stores, clothing stores, flower shops or variety stores are just some of the proposed permitted uses, although any new business would be subject to proposed size restrictions in the village business district.

Under the proposed code for the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board the sign, if considered a historic feature, should be preserved if at all possible, said Tohill.

It is Siemer’s hope that someone buys the building for theater and gallery space.

“I hope Steven Spielberg reads this because this could be a lovely space to do community outreach through a film school,” she said. “My children love to make films like his children love to make films.”

April Gornik, a North Haven artist and member of Save Sag Harbor, a not-for-profit that sent out an e-mail alert regarding the sale of the cinema said she desperately hoped the theater would ultimately remain in the village as it currently functions.

“It is such a treasure, as a landmark and for the unique service it provides the community,” she said. “It is rarely a wasted experience to go to the Sag Harbor Cinema.”

Photo by kathryn g. menu