With Election Over, Bay Street Officials Hope For A Reset

A view of the plans for the new Bay Street Theater. from Long Island Avenue in Sag Harbor. Courtesy Bay Street Theater.

A little more than a month ago, facing growing opposition to their plans to build a new theater on the site of the Water Street Shops complex on Long Island Avenue, representatives of Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor said they might have no other choice but to move out of the village.

The announcement was seen as a threat by some, a bluff by others, and a potential major blow to the village’s economic and cultural life by still others.

As the village’s mayoral election grew more heated by the day, Bay Street’s executive director, Tracy Mitchell, said the decision to explore other venues was largely based on the opposition of then mayoral candidate James Larocca to the theater’s plans to build on what she has called the only suitable site in the village.

But with Mr. Larocca having edged incumbent Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy in the June 15 election, there are now signs of a thaw.

“I haven’t met with him, but he has met with our board chair,” Steven Todrys, Ms. Mitchell said in a recent interview. “I think things are positive. I think we have to work together to figure out a way the village can get what it wants and Bay Street can get what it needs.”

Mr. Larocca, who has been reluctant to comment on his plans before taking office this week, acknowledged last week that he had met with Mr. Todrys.

“All I will say is he is a gentleman and the last time we had business, we solved the problem of Bay Street’s last gala on Long Wharf,” Mr. Larocca said, calling their most recent meeting the beginning of what he hoped would be a productive conversation.

It remains to be seen what influence Mr. Larocca will be able to bring to bear on Bay Street’s plans. During the campaign, he said he would prefer that it abandon plans for Water Street Shops and build instead on the former Dodds & Eder property at 11 Bridge Street, which was recently purchased by Adam Potter, the chairman of Friends of Bay Street, a not-for-profit organization created to build a new home for the theater.

But any application the theater brings to the village would go before the Planning Board, Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, and possibly the Zoning Board of Appeals and Harbor Committee, and not the Village Board.

The Village Board, under Mayor Mulcahy, had begun an effort to tighten zoning rules along a portion of the village waterfront, but Mr. Larocca had opposed it as too limited in scope. Ms. Mulcahy canceled what would have been her final meeting as mayor, a June 23 work session, at which a hearing on the zoning changes would have been opened.

Mr. Larocca, who has called for a new comprehensive plan, has said in the meantime he would cherry-pick some of the ideas included in the mayor’s waterfront rezoning effort.

With a moratorium on waterfront development still in place until September, Bay Street must wait before it can file a formal plan with any of the village’s regulatory boards.

“The dust is going to settle at some point,” said Stephen Hamilton, one of Bay Street’s founders, who now serves as the theater’s director of external affairs. “We just need to know what the village is going to do. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the current code.”

As the waiting game continues, Ms. Mitchell said she now wishes Bay Street had done some things differently. In April, it released a short video showing renderings by its architect, Roger Ferris + Partners, that showed an imposing structure in place of the Water Street Shops building and galvanized opponents.

“As we all know, that was a draft, a first draft,” said Ms. Mitchell, who added that it was hard to stop the negative momentum once it began. “It was presented to a large group when in retrospect, we should have met with smaller groups and worked more slowly.”

Mr. Hamilton repeated that Bay Street’s first choice is to stay in Sag Harbor, and while acknowledging the threat to move was in some ways an effort to exert leverage, “it comes from a place of reality.”

“It’s an essential issue,” he explained. “If we can’t build in Sag Harbor, we can’t just let the operation fail.”

Ms. Mitchell said she, for one, was glad, the election was over and she expressed hope that things would calm down. “As I say around the office, let’s keep the drama on the stage,” she said.