Mayor proposes Shubert management transfer

The Shubert Theater will soon move into private hands following a proposal by the mayor.
The Shubert Theater will soon move into private hands following a proposal by the mayor. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

Approaching its 100th year on College Street, the historic Shubert Theater will soon begin operating independently once more, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced in his final State of the City address.

The city of New Haven currently owns and operates the theater, but the mayor’s proposition will transfer ownership and operating responsibility to the Connecticut Association for the Performing Arts, a separate not-for-profit theater management organization. The proposal calls to decrease the city’s operating subsidies for the theater, said Kelly Murphy, the New Haven economic development administrator, which cost New Haven $250,000 this past year alone, according to the fiscal year 2012–’13 budget.

“The city is not in the business of owning and running theaters; however, the Shubert is an incredible asset to New Haven by bringing a lot of economic support to the city,” Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said.

In the coming months, DeStefano’s proposal to transition funding for the theater will be finalized in City Hall and reviewed by the Board of Aldermen. New Haven will continue to work with the theater throughout the legislative process, as well as in the coming years while the Shubert begins fundraising for a much-needed renovation, Murphy said. She added that the theater’s facilities, many of which haven’t been updated in three decades, are starting to show their age in instances of roof leaks and faulty heating equipment.

The Shubert’s upcoming 100-year anniversary celebration offers an opportunity for the theater to start fundraising from foundations and the private sector to make the much-needed physical renovations, Murphy said. Otherwise, all the funds would have to come directly from the city budget, which city officials say has been strained recently by cuts in the Connecticut state budget.

Despite being weaned off financial support from the city, the Shubert may benefit from economic assistance legislation in Hartford. State Rep. Patricia Dillon proposed a bill this year that would provide one-time state bonds not exceeding $3.45 million for physical improvements to the theater, she said in an email.

These investments in the renovation, Elicker said, will contribute to bettering New Haven’s economic situation. Murphy added that the theater provides jobs and draws visitors to the city, which supports the surrounding businesses. The city budget, she said, thus eventually benefits from increased tax revenue. Additionally, transferring management to CAPA, a subentity of the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts, will allow the theater to make plans several years in advance rather than relying on the year-to-year budget of the city. The city will maintain certain requirements of CAPA in theater management, including how many shows will run each month.

The Shubert opened in New Haven in 1914, acting as a try-out theater for many popular shows that would reach Broadway. Economic hardships forced the theater to shutter in 1976, but after a seven-year effort, it was restored and reopened with the help of the city. The theater was designed by New York architect Albert Swasey and has a 1,600-person seating capacity.

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