Westport Cinema Initiative spotlights critical need for funds
Published 4:10 pm, Wednesday, August 19, 2015
It could be do-or-die time for the Westport Cinema Initiative.
If people want a movie theater built downtown, it’s going to take money to make that happen, with about $60,000 needed right now if the project is to proceed, said Sandy Lefkowitz, executive director of the WCI, a group working toward that goal for several years.
“It won’t happen just because they want it,” Lefkowitz said this week about people who have expressed interest in the group’s plan to build a not-for-profit theater on a parcel of land at 142 Main St., located down an alleyway next to Tavern on Main restaurant.
And to succeed, the project needs help from substantial financial donors, she said. But who are they? That could be decided by a fundraising organization that WCI leaders would like to hire at a cost of $60,000, Lefkowitz said.
She said that group would identify those in the community who could make significant donations to help fund the project. “We are really reaching out to the community,” she added.
The goal toward raising that amount was “yesterday,” she said, adding WCI is about half way there. The group already has the $15,000 needed to conduct a feasibility study for the project, she added.
This is a crucial moment in the four-year history of the WCI, a “volunteer-driven organization,” wrote Alex W. White, a member of the group’s Board of Directors, in a recent letter to the Westport News.
Today, he noted, the group is a recognized not-for-profit organization and “an integral part of Westport’s robust arts heritage and, importantly, the town’s Downtown Master Plan.”
He said it’s time to build the theater, but to do that, as Lefkowitz noted, the WCI needs the community’s support and needs to raise that $60,000 “in very short order,” otherwise “the project will come to a stop and the theater will almost certainly not come about.”
Lefkowitz said White wrote the letter out of frustration.
Ultimately, if the project is to move forward, the WCI will have to raise about $4.5 million for building costs and one-year of operational expenses.
At a Downtown Steering Committee forum last August, Lefkowitz said the cinema initiative has a lease agreement with the owner of property at 142 Main St., now a dirt parking lot behind Tavern on Main.
This week, she said the group still has an agreement for the property owned by the Teuscher Family Trust, which is currently used for private parking. Lefkowitz said there is no deadline for the theater to be built there.
The group’s concept calls for three theaters inside the building, including two with stadium-style seating, one with 125 seats the other with 75, the group told the steering committee. A third smaller theater on a second floor could seat 50, Rich Hoag, the plan’s architect, said at last year’s meeting. An arcade would run from Main Street to, and through, the theater, he added.
This week, Lefkowitz declined to say how large the building would be, but noted it would be “no higher than other buildings” in that area.
Currently, the Westport Cinema Initiative sponsors periodic film screenings, which means it has rent space and equipment, Lefkowitz said, adding the space the group has used at Town Hall does have equipment that can be used. Nonetheless, various rental fees add up, she said.
As for what kinds of movies would be shown at the planned theater, Lefkowitz ruled out films like “Avatar” and said the focus would gravitate more to those like “Amy,” a recent documentary about the turbulent life of the late singer Amy Winehouse, that are not usually shown in large, first-run theaters. “It’s still mainstream, but independent,” she noted.
Besides raising money, the project also needs town board approvals, including from the Planning and Zoning Commission. It was estimated it would take 12 to 18 months for construction to be completed once all plans are approved.
For more information about the Westport Cinema Initiative, go to the group’s website, www.westportcinema.org.