Shubert to see new owner

The historic Shubert Theater may see a change from city ownership to a not-for-profit management body, pending a decision by the Board of Aldermen.
The historic Shubert Theater may see a change from city ownership to a not-for-profit management body, pending a decision by the Board of Aldermen. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

The Board of Aldermen received a proposal Monday to transfer the historic Shubert Theater from city ownership to a new, not-for-profit management body.

The proposed new owner — the Connecticut Association for the Performing Arts — has been running the theater since 2001, and Shubert Theater administrators hope that an ownership switch will help the theater fund a much-needed renovation. In order for the proposal to be finalized, the Board of Aldermen must reach a majority vote in favor of the change.

“We’ve had a great partnership with the city and we look forward to continuing that in a new way,” said John Fisher, the executive director for CAPA and the Shubert Theater. “We think this is a great opportunity for both the city and the Shubert in the future.”

The Shubert opened in 1914,and has produced over 600 pre-Broadway tryouts and world premieres. Currently, the city government owns the theater but daily operations are handled by CAPA on a year-to-year lease. Because CAPA currently runs the theater, the Shubert’s purpose and style would remain the same under the proposed change, said Anthony Lupinacci, the director of marketing and community relations for the Shubert Theater.

With the theater’s main functions to remain in place, CAPA officials said the new management’s top priority will be renovating the space. The Shubert, which has not had a significant renovation in 30 years, needs repairs to its fire escape, exterior brick work and heating and cooling systems, Kelly Murphy, the economic development administrator for the City of New Haven, wrote in a letter to Jorge Perez, the president of the Board of Aldermen. She added that without many of these repairs, the theater will be forced to close.

In addition to repairing the theater, administrators said they want to build a second performance area, which would accommodate a 100-200 person audience, Lupinacci said. He added that a smaller stage would allow the theater more flexibility to host different community groups.

Lupinacci said it will be much easier to raise the requisite funds for the renovation if theater ownership is transferred to CAPA since a city municipality is not eligible to apply for some of the grants the Shubert hopes to win.

The proposal will be assigned to an aldermanic committee for review, City Hall spokeswoman Anna Mariotti said. Afterward, the chair of the aldermanic committee will place the item on the agenda for a public hearing, which will be followed by a board vote.

Shubert Theater administrators said they are optimistic that the Board of Aldermen will approve the transition. Fisher said that the time is right for both a management switch and a celebration, as the theater approaches its 100th anniversary. Lupinacci said he predicts the Board of Aldermen will seriously consider relinquishing ownership given the financial liability that the inevitable renovation poses. He added that CAPA is pleased to be considered for ownership.

“When you think of all the artists and shows that premiered here at our Shubert it’s an honor to be able to operate the building,” Lupinacci said.

Since closing in 1976 and then reopening in 1984, the Shubert has had a $300 million positive economic impact on New Haven through tertiary purchases such as hotel rooms, dining and transportation that accompany viewing a theater production, according to the letter sent by Murphy.

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