Town Moves To Acquire Easements on Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center

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Construction is ongoing on the future Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center on Main Street. Kathryn G. Menu photo

As construction work on the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center continues for all to see on Main Street, it became evident in Southampton Town Hall Tuesday night that efforts have been underway behind the scenes as well to advance the project.

Without comment or discussion, the Town Board at its regular meeting voted 5-0 to ask the public whether or not the town should buy a “restrictive use easement” and an “historic preservation easement” on the cinema property through the town’s Community Preservation Fund (CPF). The public hearing will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 23 in Town Hall.

No mention of a price for the two easements was made in the town board’s resolution. If acquired by the town, they would bar in perpetuity any structural changes at the property as well as its redevelopment for any other use.

Depending on the price, the sale of the easements could help close a significant gap in fundraising for the construction. The arts center project is expected to cost between $5 and $6 million and fundraising efforts have been underway ever since the Sag Harbor Partnership acquired the site for $8 million in late 2017.

April Gornik, a major cinema donor with her husband Eric Fischl and vice president of the Partnership, which is spearheading the project, said on Wednesday that $2 million has been raised since the property was acquired.

Witnessed from the audience by Ms. Gornik and two colleagues from the Partnership’s board of directors, Susan Mead and Judi Caron, the vote took a matter of minutes. They left the board room as soon as the vote was taken.

Contacted on Wednesday, Ms. Mead issued a statement on behalf of the Partnership: “We, the Sag Harbor Partnership, are thrilled and gratified that the Southampton Town Board and the Community Preservation Fund have invested time and effort toward securing the Sag Harbor Cinema as a cherished landmark in our East End community.

“The proposed easements will provide the ultimate protection for the Cinema, guaranteeing its use as a cinema and preservation of the restored facade and sign for generations to come. We look forward to the public hearing before the Southampton Town Board on October 23, 2018.”

Supervisor Jay Schneiderman could not be reached Wednesday for comment. Partnership president Nick Gazzolo was traveling.

Commenting by email on Wednesday, Ms. Gornik said that “we’re just now embarking on a new fundraising Fall Campaign with an update to donors, we also have a pending grant our fingers are crossed for, and then there’s the possibility of the easement, which is so meaningful to us not only as a funding source but also as a way of securing the legacy of the cinema as a cinema for the next 100 years, as we’ve put it. We will still have considerable funds to raise in any event because of construction costs going up — that old story — and also because we’re now working on estimating funds needed for staffing, ticketing and the like. So we’re still working like dogs but feeling very hopeful!”

According to the Town Board’s resolution setting the public hearing, “Sagcinema LLC has expressed an interest in selling a restrictive use easement and historic preservation easement on the property,” a .16-acre plot at 90 Main Street where the Sag Harbor Cinema stood before it was largely destroyed by fire on December 16, 2016.

For the town to acquire the easements through its CPF program, the CPF “project plan” and the CPF “management and stewardship plan” must be amended to include the property, which “includes a building of significant historic value and which is located in the Sag Harbor Historic District and is designated a contributing property within that district,” according to the board’s resolution.

According to the board’s resolution, a restrictive use easement and a historic preservation easement “will protect the historic use, and the scenic and visible historic integrity of the property …”

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”