17 thoughts on “‘We Don’t Want To See This Thing Happen Ever Again’: Finance Board Approves Further $164,000 for Playhouse

  1. Nothing mentioned explains why the overruns happened. What went wrong in the planning? Big projects get done by the town all the time without costing double. 10% overage is often expected but this looks like mismanagement and someone should be held accountable because at the end of the day, we, the taxpayers are funding it. New Canaan taxes are high enough already and there are many programs that could have really benefited from some of those funds.
    We all wanted the theatre but I doubt it would have happened if we told it was going to be 8M. Transparency in government never gets old and we were certainly owed that much.

    • Thanks, Larry. We’ve included a link to a prior story re the specifics of budgeting for the Playhouse renovation. Also noting here that this project, and the “design-build” model chosen specifically and regrettably for it—the hiring of this specific local architectural firm as well as a builder whose work has already been costly in ADA violation citations—was developed under the immediate prior first selectman, for whom transparency was not a strong suit. (I believe that the most effective way to repair a legacy of dishonesty is by telling the truth, though I’m guessing at this point we will not see that from him or his former minions, who must be rather embarrassed by now.)

      • So how does a town with a project of this cost and magnitude allow for no bid work to proceed (it’s on time and materials). How do we now spend another $78,000 on architectural plans that should have long been completed. What was the total cost for architectural services for this project? Additionally, the Two Million dollar state grant must has specific terms on usage of the money and usually requires specfic guidelines for expenditures. State money usually means public bids and prevailing wages.

        • I don’t know how a state grant gets allocated or what the status of this one is. The town definitely appears to be counting it against the $8.5 million. I’ll ask about it.

  2. Since taxpayers are footing a large portion of the renovation costs, hopefully the town will have a say in what the planned monthly membership rates will be.

    • Last winter Luke Parker Bowles was at a community event talking about the Playhouse Theater. I raised my hand and I inquired about the membership rates. Rather than answer the question directly, he replied that membership information on their website.

      However, I could not locate the website.

      Laura Budd, executive director of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce immediately forwarded the link to me. Below is the link with membership information:


      Annual membership is: $3,600 per year.

      • As General McAuliffe would say “NUTS!”. Dare I even ask what the regular admission price for adults or kids is going to be for people who are not members, but appear to have partially contributed via their taxes a rather substantial sum of cash and waited 4 years for the place to (re)open?

  3. So in year one it looks like it will cost New Canaan taxpayers $5200 dollars for
    the privilege of being able to attend their local “community theater” A $1500 non refundable registration fee and $3600 annual membership fee. This seems more a private club than a local movie house…. with New Canaan taxpayers footing the bill.

  4. So it will be for privileged people only ? Town is building a private club from tax payers money ? Seriously? The will ask a membership to walk in and watch a movie? Are they going to serve lobsters/ champagne on silver trays with every show ?

    • You (and others) are making a lot of assumptions here.

      The taxpayers are funding the sorely needed renovation of The Playhouse, a town-owned building. The community has expressed very clearly, for years, that it wants that building to serve as a movie theater. Town volunteers and staff worked hard after Bow Tie left at the start of the pandemic to identify a successor movie operator.

      The model that’s been proposed here is similar to what’s worked elsewhere—in the case of the Avon Theatre in Stamford, for example, it’s worked well for many years. The general public will be able to see movies at the Playhouse. There also could be special events, such as talks with directors or private uses of new spaces within the Playhouse—whatever, who cares, not me—for which “members” will enjoy the benefit of access, swag, priority and discounted rates, given the fees they pay to generously support this important community enterprise. I think New Canaan is lucky to have a proven partner in CinemaLab.

      It’s a successful business model in our blessedly capitalist nation, not a tag line for factually inaccurate conspiracy theories. The people who are signing up to become members are engaged in an act of generosity—as opposed to, say, certain members of the Town Council who this evening demonstrated that they undervalue the New Canaan Public Schools and New Canaan Library, “I love the library” set pieces notwithstanding—not snobbery as you seem to suggest. (On that note I would think Sauvignon blanc or even gin-and-tonic pairs better with lobster.)

      The fact-based critical discussion regarding the Playhouse project falls on the town, not on CinemaLab. CinemaLab came in to breathe long-lasting life into the movie theater. The town selected the architects and builders. The town publicized a budget before understanding the building’s problems and expensive needs. The town discovered (I take it) after-the-fact that un-permitted work had been done at the Playhouse for years, maybe decades. It unfolded under the former first selectman. Still I think it’s deeply disingenuous for anyone in town government or anywhere else to take aim at an unsuspecting partner that has weathered more than its share of headaches since the cost of this thing skyrocketed. I also think those concerns will fall away once the renovated and restored Playhouse reopens.

      Thank you for submitting your comment, and please check your email, where I responded to other things you appear to have imagined.

      • Perhaps wrong assumptions are being made because the process from the start has been less than transparent. We can only make judgement on what’s been reported… mostly by The New Canaanite. This seems like a good juncture for The New Canaanite to seek an interview with the leadership of CinemaLab so they can spell out exactly what the plan is. Since the town is a major investor I would hope that they will have a say in insuring that the plan is fair and equitable. On a daily basis how many tickets will be available to the general public verses members? What will be the cost per ticket? As a sidebar Michael I would agree with your suggested pairing of Sauvignon Blanc with lobster. Preferably from New Zealand Marlboro region.

          • Good idea – the Avon in Stamford appears to be a non-profit with viewer support and ticket sales. The New Canaan movie theatre now appears to be a for profit tenant operation with a private aspect – the club -and a public aspect – the theatre -. That tenant has a public landlord who has made investments to get the building back up to snuff and the tenant is making tenant improvements. The question then is public access and price for that access (I.e. seeing a movie in town which most everyone would like and the reason for public investment in the first place.)

  5. Spot on, Mike. These residents can’t possibly recoup $3,600 in value every year from their respective membership experiences. They’re effectively giving this money away so that we all can still have a theater in town. And, downstream from that, they’re keeping our collective property values on solid footing.

    These people should be recognized, thanked and applauded for their generosity.

    • You’ve opened my eyes Phil. I had not viewed this through the benevolent lens. They should re-brand the name from “membership” to “Patron of NC
      Community Theater”.

  6. So how does the town of New Canaan allow Carlthbart’s firm, Architectural Preservation Studio. to have a no bid base contract for services for $430,000.00 dollars and from the articule above add another $78,000.00 for a total of over $500,000.00 for the single project

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