Sag Harbor Cinema’s Architectural Plans Earn Review Board Approval

A March 2018 rendering of the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center. Image by NK Architects and Croxton Collaborative Architects

A rather perfunctory public hearing lasting 10 minutes was all it took for Sag Harbor’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review to approve conceptual plans for the rebuilding of the Sag Harbor Cinema last Thursday. As the last step before the village’s regulatory boards, the BHPAR’s green light clears the way for the cinema’s steward, the Sag Harbor Partnership, to apply for a building permit.

Christopher Kelley, the attorney who has been representing the partnership, said concrete construction schematics are now in the works. “The building department will review it to make sure the plans meet codes, but it’s nondiscretionary, so if you meet the codes you get a permit,” he said.

Susan Mead, the partnership’s treasurer and a member of the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals who had recused herself when the cinema application came before the ZBA, said the partnership is “very happy to have these village approvals behind us.”

She credited Mr. Kelley and Allen Kopelson and Randolph Croxton, the architects, who all worked pro bono, along with the Sag Harbor Partnership’s volunteers, as important figures in the process.

“Last year, we spent less than 1 percent of all donation money on fees and cost of services,” Ms. Mead said. “It’s absolutely key. It’s been wonderful. I think the volunteer attorney and volunteer architects made it happen, with the help of the village staff.”

Mr. Kelley, who had proffered his services in letters to two newspapers just days after the December 16, 2016, fire that severely damaged the cinema, called it “a worthwhile opportunity” to donate his services.

“My wife and I had been going to that theater for 37 years,” he said. “I’m very happy for them. They’ve achieved a lot. It’s been a fun, cooperative effort and a great bunch to work with.”

As for the building itself, the façade will remain the same as it did before the fire, although the interior will be three stories instead of two. From the BHPAR’s perspective, the cinema’s exterior — the board only has jurisdiction over external architectural features — met the board’s priorities, which had been addressed during a few informal discussion sessions and one formal meeting over the past several months.

Board chairman Anthony Brandt said he was happy with the outcome even though the proposed roof terrace — which was eventually approved — caused a stir among the board members, who generally dislike such things. The cinema’s representatives reassured them that people on the terrace would not be visible from Main Street.

“We’d really talked about it endlessly. No one stood up and objected to it,” Mr. Brandt said. “It was unanimous. There was no problem with it.”

He expressed an explicitly personal opinion that “the real question is financing. I worry that once they build it, if they gather the money to do it, once it’s in operation, sustaining it may be very difficult.”

But Mr. Kelley said the Sag Harbor Partnership has already thought ahead to its operational model.

“Everyone has looked at whether this is a viable project, and it’s clear that it is, and I believe it is,” he said. “It will be more than just a theater for foreign movies. It will have the ability to adapt economically in order to survive.”