Last night, the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee voted seven to three to allow the full Board of Aldermen to decide the future of one of New Haven’s most historic cultural landmarks.
The major agenda item for the meeting was Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s plan for a New Haven landmark: The Shubert Theatre. The mayor’s plan calls for shifting the theatre’s ownership to the Connecticut Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA), along with the city contributing funds to the Shubert Centennial Campaign, attempting to resolve a decades-old urban issue.
The theater, one of New Haven’s most storied institutions, premiered “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1947 and “South Pacific” in 1949. But the Schubert followed a trend — begun in the 1960s — of theaters in medium-sized cities becoming marginalized entertainment options due to suburban flight and increased building costs. Despite its fame, people have begun to question whether the theater is worth the approximately $300,000 annual payments it receives from the City of New Haven.
“1983 was the last time we put in significant capital resources to make the theater competitive again,” the Economic Development Office’s deputy administrator Michael Pisticelli said while testifying.
The proposed Land Disposition Agreement calls for a one dollar purchase of the Shubert Theatre by CAPA, followed by a series of payments of $3 million by the City of New Haven, which will be matched by state money.
Prior to the meeting, Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 remarked that this model of nonprofit trust management of historic theatres had been successful in both Columbus, Ohio. and Pittsburgh, Pa. and was a viable solution for the 21st century.
“The true benefit is looking at a long-term plan,” Hausladen said.
Both business and labor leaders were on hand to back the Economic Development Office’s efforts.
Winn Davis of the Town Green District and Business Community emphasized the importance of the Shubert to New Haven’s downtown revitalization. Robbie Nasser, rooms director for the Omni New Haven Hotel, estimated that, every time a show came to the Shubert, 30 to 50 rooms were reserved for stagehands and actors.
Representatives of the stagehands’ union Local 74 were also on-hand to express their support.
But as for the details of the plan itself, various attendants expressed concern that the proposal did not satisfactorily account for the value of the Shubert.
Ward 16 Alderwoman Migdalia Castro said the $1 price tag meant the city was “giving” the Shubert to CAPA, rather than treating the organization as one in a semi-competitive market.
In an interview after the meeting, Castro reiterated her belief in the principle of helping nonprofits, but expressed concern that the Board has to watch citizens’ tax dollars carefully — the lack of an appraisal for the Shubert’s sale was unacceptable for her, she said.
“Nowadays, in this economy, nothing is for free,” Castro added.
Castro’s concerns reflected those of Greg Joyner, a New Haven resident and the sole person to testify against the proposed sale. He said his reservations were born in his fear that taxpayers in the city of New Haven will not be able to afford it.
Despite Joyner being vastly outnumbered, signs abounded that discussion over plans for the future of New Haven’s Shubert Theatre are far from over.
Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, who voted against the move, said his vote reflected the inconclusivity of the meeting.
If the current Land Disposition Agreement is approved, a ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned to take place in October 2014, in time to celebrate the theater’s 100th anniversary.