The Board of Selectmen this week recommended spending $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to prepare The Playhouse for a new movie operator.
The funds would be combined with about $804,000 already built up through a fund for the 1923-built Playhouse in order to “do a significant amount of upgrades to the building,” according to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan.
“In conjunction with an operator, we will make a joint investment in upgrades in the theater,” he said during a special Board meeting, held Monday at Town Hall and via videoconference.
Public Works Director Tiger Mann said that a roof replacement at the iconic Elm Street building is nearly done, and now work is needed to its brick exterior as well as ADA upgrades as they relate to a bathroom, accessibility and exits.
The theater needs “ADA accessibly in and through the theaters themselves, depending on how they are laid out,” Mann said.
He continued, “If we stayed with the way that they are now, we have to provide accessible seating, but there’s only a certain amount that we have to [provide]. And we’ve got to provide, at present, an accessible exit. We don’t have accessible exits right now to the alleyways on either side. And then there is some other work to be done in and around the structure itself, and then if we want to utilize the second floor, we would need an elevator to take care of that as well.”
Moynihan and Selectmen Kathleen Corbet and Nick Williams voted 3-0 in favor of the recommendation, which moves along to the Board of Finance and then the Town Council. During the meeting, the selectmen also recommended $250,000 in ARPA funding for the Powerhouse Theatre in Waveny, where a nonprofit organization is planning a renovation and expansion of its facility in Waveny. (The town also is planning another $250,000 in capital spending for the project.)
Closed since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and available to a new tenant since Bow Tie Cinemas terminated its lease nine months later, the iconic movie house already has been approved for new roofing this year. The ADA-related improvements needed will cost a total of about $1.5 to $2.2 million, Mann said.
Williams said, “We want to keep that building as a theater. I think there is overwhelming support in the community to do that. So we have to fix the building.”
The new operator is planning to make a “substantial investment” for “substantial improvements to the experience” inside the theater, Moynihan said.
The Playhouse likely will be operational again around Thanksgiving, he said.
Together, the $1,250,000 for the Playhouse and Powerhouse are what the selectmen called “Phase 2” of the ARPA spending. About $2 million of $6 million total that the federal government gave to New Canaan already has been allocated. The next phase would be about $1.5 million for nonprofit organizations, and the town had called on the New Canaan Community Foundation to help vet applications. Of that, a large portion is a request from Waveny Care Center, Moynihan said, though that likely will be broken out of the nonprofit pool.