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Theaterís Future Will Be In The Small Print

Originally Posted: October 01, 2007

Christine Bellini

The Bay Street Theater hopes to enjoy many more years at it's present location thanks for the foresight of local officials. (Photos by Chris Bellini)

Sag Harbor - Creatively designating Community Preservations Funds (CPF) to secure a long-term residence for Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theater is no small feat according to State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, clarifying that the negotiations are "still conceptual" in nature and fundamentally unprecedented, "which shows how important this particular cultural facility is."

The accord ushered in by Assemblyman Thiele and supported by Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris, Southampton Town Supervisor Patrick Heaney and East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee, calls for the use of CPF funds to purchase the present theater space from Long Wharf dock complex owner Patrick E. Malloy III, a community visionary in his own right.

Adopted in 1999 by the five east end townships as a means to fund open space acquisitions by garnering a 2 percent deed transfer tax on all properties above a $250,000 residential base and a $100,000 commercial base, the CPF has developed into a formidable regional resource.

In addition to open space acquisition, the Fund's scope has been broadened to include properties which fall under the preservation jurisdiction of farmland, historic landmark, and parks and recreation. Most recently the joint purchase of The Poxabogue Golf Course by the neighboring townships addressed a groundswell of community opposition to private development there, illustrating the effectiveness of the program, according to Assemblyman Thiele.

"It will be part of the agreement between the towns and the village as to what everybody's rights and responsibilities are in this undertaking," Thiele asserted, "there are a lot of steps to this."

Bay Street Theater's landmark location.

First and foremost in the process, which is expected to unfold over the next two years, is the establishment of a fair market value for the property which will need to be divided into condominium units, separating out the Theater's present occupancy from the remainder of the Malloy building. Following the appraisal and subsequent valuation on part of the seller, Malloy Enterprises, which for tax purposes and charitable reasons may result in a below fair market price tag, tenancy terms and conditions will have to be hammered out between the townships, village and theater's management.

Confident the local municipalities have the theater's best interest in mind, Bay Street Theater Executive Director Steve Hamilton cited a long history of regional and national public support of theater tenancies, assuring Bay Street's management was "secure and comfortable to go forward."

"We are so thrilled about the towns' and village's recognized value in the theater so much so as to want to preserve the property in the village and support the economic and cultural anchor which is alive and thriving here," Hamilton added. "The theater creates a destination advantage to facilities, and that's a formidable symbiotic relationship."

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley was the first to actively seek the theater's calling card attributes when he offered to relocate the production company to the soon to be vacant Parrish Art Museum facility on Jobs Lane. Despite an attractive 40 year lease at one dollar a year, the theater's board of directions opted to stay put in Sag Harbor measuring its support and loyalty in that community. Shedding light on the operational difficulties faced by a not-for-profit theater in an aggressive real estate market such as The Hamptons, the Southampton Village offer shed light on the intrinsic value of keeping the theater in is birthplace of Sag Harbor according to local officials here.

Ironing out the small print of the arrangement is paramount to the autonomy of the theater and identity of the space as a community facility. According to Assemblyman Thiele, the Village of Sag Harbor would be most participatory in that discussion, admitting there are a lot of complicated policy issues still to be resolved. "The point is to reach a public benefit. We clearly want community input and involvement here."

Cognizant of considerations the new arrangement would present to the theater's overall operations, Hamilton was confident the details would be reached to everyone's benefit. "If there is anything we can do in a situation where the village has a meeting that is important enough to require the theater as a meeting place, we would welcome it," Hamilton assured. "My reading of it is that the village would honor our use to offer a full program which is especially busy in the summer time, allowing for opportunities to accommodate the Village's needs, should they arise."

As to the length and breath of the lease agreement, Hamilton assured "everyone sees it to their advantage to have a long term set. Our funding depends on donors who want to know the theater will be here for some time."

As August 31, the Suffolk County Department of Finance and Taxation has reported a total of $68,781.796.83 in CPF activity to date, with East Hampton and Southampton townships representing the lion's share of the taxes collected. Deed transfers in Southampton town totaled 2,524 through August, double that of East Hampton's 1233 transfers.

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