This week, on 0684-Radi0, our free podcast (subscribe here in the iTunes Store), we talk to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan about The Playhouse, which has been closed since March 2020. The Town Council is to hold meetings at 7 p.m. on June 23 and 29 to solicit public input on plans to bring in a new operator for the Elm Street movie theater.
Saying they need more information, members of New Canaan’s legislative body on Monday night put off a vote on an agreement with a prospective new operator of The Playhouse movie theater downtown. The Town Council took no action during a special meeting on a letter of intent that would still be subject to legal review and Board of Selectmen approval. Though the Council didn’t name the prospective new operator—it met out of the public eye, in an executive session, claiming a “real estate” exemption—one attendee of the meeting who remained during the closed-door session was the head of Montclair, N.J.-based Cinema Lab. According to the company’s website, it takes on projects for “community-based” theaters “that are significant to the towns they serve.”
“Incorporating both tent-pole studio films with uncommon alternate programming,” the Cinema Lab website says. “We believe in a technology-first experience where the guest is in control.
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.
New Canaan’s highest elected official said this week that the town soon will decide whether to allocate $750,000 in federal funds toward readying The Playhouse for a new movie operator.
Getting the iconic Elm Street theater back in operation is “one of the biggest economic developments we could do locally” with the first tranche of nearly $6 million in federal funding that New Canaan is getting under the America Rescue Plan Act, according to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan. The $750,000 would be combined with $850,000 already built up through a fund for the 1923-built Playhouse, and together that would be enough “to do all the repairs and code compliance that we need to do to get The Playhouse back in operation,” Moynihan said during the Board fo Selectmen’s regular meeting, held Tuesday at Town Hall and via videoconference.
“We are working with potential operators who are coming in but we can’t reopen until we have a code-complaint building and refurbished building,” he said. The Board of Finance and Town Council are expected to review and vote on preliminary recommendations for how to spend about $3.5 million of the federal funds that the selectmen discussed during their meeting. Once approved, the town could start appropriating funds in October and November, Moynihan said. “Every town and city is doing this differently and they are making their decisions,” he said.
New Canaan already has received several calls from movie operators and others interested in The Playhouse on Elm Street, the town’s highest elected official said Monday. Though there’s “a lot of sentiment because it’s good to have a movie theater in town,” according to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, “we can certainly look at other opportunities to do active performance type things there.”
He spoke during a regular meeting of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee on Buildings and Infrastructure, held via videoconference. Moynihan was responding to a suggestion from Committee member Stuart Sawabini that the group review the use of town-owned buildings.
“The movie theater—is it good utilization to bring the theater back?” Sawabini said. “You go right around the town and there’s a long list of buildings, and I just wonder whether periodically it would be advisable for us to go back and look at building utilization and see what we can do to either improve or sell off buildings that we are not using,” he said. Moynihan disclosed last week that Bow Tie Cinemas is terminating its lease for The Playhouse, which closed mid-March amid the onset of COVID-19 virus.