Editorial: Cinema Surprise

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It came as a bolt out of the blue when the Southampton Town Board, near the end of a long meeting on September 25, conducted a seemingly routine vote to set a public hearing for 6 p.m. on October 23 on what might have been mistaken for some boring bureaucratic involving “the acquisition of a restrictive use easement and historic preservation easement on property located at 90 Main Street, Sag Harbor,” according to the board’s agenda.

In fact, the vote was worthy of celebratory fireworks. It revealed that the town and the non-profit Sag Harbor Partnership, which is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to recreate the fire-ravaged Sag Harbor Cinema as a three-screen movie theatre and arts center, have been negotiating a way to give the project a financial boost and protect the Main Street site from retail redevelopment forever.

One of the easements the CPF will buy, if the public and the town board approve, would bar any changes without town approval to the reconstructed art deco façade of the theatre, which will look just the way it did before the fire, complete with the “Sag Harbor” sign so many have come to identify as one of the village’s most visible landmarks. The other would bar any change of use from a cinema arts center “in perpetuity.”

The use easement also would limit the price of movie tickets to 80 percent of the going rate at commercial theatres and restrict any accessory use of the property for a café, gift shop and gallery to 25 percent of the total square footage.

Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman disclosed a bombshell in an interview two days after the vote. The Partnership and the town have negotiated a price of $4 million for the two easements, an unprecedented shot in the arm for the cinema project and a lot more than the Partnership was looking for when it originally proposed selling the town only a preservation easement on the façade, according to the supervisor. That said, given the sale price for a number of Sag Harbor businesses as of late, it is not an unreasonable sum to ensure the property retains not only its façade, but the historic use that made it a landmark in more ways than one.

We would encourage residents to support this easement, either by writing the town board or, better yet, turning up at the public hearing later this month. A lot has changed in Sag Harbor, but this would ensure that one of its iconic businesses, however evolved, will remain in perpetuity.

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