A Big Talk Over New Digs

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. talked about the importance of the Bay Street Theatre
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. talked about the importance of the Bay Street Theatre staying in Sag Harbor at a forum last Thursday. Carrie Ann Salvi

    More than 100 people turned out for an informational forum at the Bay Street Theatre organized by its management team and members of its board to discuss the theater’s future home last Thursday.
    “We wanted to be candid with the community who supports us,” Murphy Davis, Bay Street’s artistic director, said.
    Residents, business owners, and board members made it clear that they want the theater to remain in Sag Harbor. Many spoke out demanding it, for reasons ranging from cultural to educational to economic, and offered ideas about how it could stay.
    “It’s not just about the rent,” Tracy Mitchell, the theater’s executive director, said in addressing a rumor about the reason behind a move. She added that Patrick E. Malloy III, a businessman and Sag Harbor landowner, has been a good landlord. She mentioned other expenses that make it a struggle to keep the not-for-profit theater afloat: Besides the $185,000 annual rent, which increases every three years, it costs $200,000 to house actors and crews, and other money is spent on rent in Riverhead for the construction of sets.
    Mr. Davis sought to dispel another rumor — that shows were not well attended. He said the theater, which holds 299 people, did “very well.” Robby Stein, a Sag Harbor Village Board member who also serves on the theater’s board, pointed out that theaters don’t live on that revenue; they depend on grants and donations, too.
    “If we increase our earnings, it’s not a game-changer,” Frank Filipo, the chairman of the theater’s board, said. “The theater’s fixed costs are raised, and having to raise more and more money each year is very difficult.” He added, “We are proud of the work done here. Everything is done at the highest level of professional entertainment.”
    “We want to stay in Sag Harbor if we can,” Mr. Davis said to loud applause.
    The theater needs to invest in a long-term home, Ms. Mitchell said, ideally in a place where expenses would be lower and the theater could own the property.
    During a lengthy discussion of the possibility of a joint effort with Pierson High School, which could use an auditorium, it was suggested that a theater could be built adjacent to school property. One of those who pushed for such a collaboration was Peter Solow, a Pierson art teacher. He worried about the psychological effect of losing the theater and said it was as essential as the school.
    Ms. Mitchell welcomed the idea of a partnership to benefit students and said it would help that the school, for the most part, wouldn’t use the space at night or in summertime.
    Among other Sag Harbor possibilities, Ms. Mitchell said the cinema on Main Street had an asking price of $12 million. The site of the recently closed Stella Maris School is not for sale, and if it were rented the Catholic Church would still be involved, which could affect programming.
    Many in attendance thought that the 14,000-square-foot former Schiavoni plumbing facility on Jermain Avenue deserved more looking into, though there are questions having to do with the village code and residents’ acceptance of increased traffic.
    The property, Ms. Mitchell said, has enough room to house actors and workers, build sets, store props, and accommodate administration. And it is close enough to work with the school — “all the things we want to do.”
    “I love the building,” Mr. Murphy said.
    In Southampton, what will soon be the former Parrish Art Museum on Job’s Lane might be the most financially viable option, according to Ms. Mitchell, and a workable agreement is being pursued. Museum officials have proposed a 50-year lease, and drawings of an outdoor pavilion adjacent to the museum are being developed.
    The “cold, hard truth,” Mr. Davis said, is that a decision needs to be made in 30 to 60 days. Mr. Filipo clarified that the theater does not have to move at that time — it will be on Long Wharf till 2013, with “great stuff this year,” he said. But as the decision nears, interim locations may have to be considered.
    Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., the village attorney, who grew up in Sag Harbor, talked about the improvements he saw when Bay Street came to the wharf and called the theater critical to the economic health of the village. “We need to do everything to keep you here,” he told the board.
    Those interested in helping the search have been asked to call the theater or e-mail their ideas to mail@baystreet.org.