May 2, 2009

$14 million theater project shelved for lack of funds

The proposed $14 million community theater has been shelved.

"We don’t have the funds available to pursue it," Mayor Art Ward. "The money's not there."

The project, first proposed five years ago, has fallen off the city’s radar screen so thoroughly that it doesn’t even appear on the long-term wish list of plans that may someday get money.

"Timing has taken its toll," Ward said. "At this time, economically, it's out of the question."

The city has eyed the possibility of a theater at the 1922 school building since former state Rep. Roger Michele, a Bristol Democrat, first suggested creating a performing arts center there, an idea that only caught on after an ambitious redevelopment plan for the downtown mall site fell through.

Advocates said a community theater would provide a much-needed venue for everything from the Older Members Show to musicals by Bristol Theatre Arts. Shows by touring musicians and others were also possible, they said.

Creating a community theater at Memorial Boulevard School will cost $14.3 million, according to a final report by architects who investigated the option last year. The plan calls for overhauling the historic theater to replace ancient, broken-down equipment, add rehearsal and storage space, update lighting and the sound system, replace the seats and much more.
The $72,900 Simsbury-based Schoenhardt Architecture + Interior Design plan details the need for a new entranceway, a lobby and a host of changes to create a modern theater that could be used for music, plays and other events.

The plan projected a construction big opening in the spring of 2010, a timetable that’s already been shoved to the side by the sinking economy.

During the administration of former Mayor William Stortz, the city got formal approval to include the school within the downtown area that might qualify for millions in state aid if the city came up with an accepted plan for its downtown revitalization. It’s likely that if a theater project moved forward, the state would wind up paying for a portion of it.

The city has been working on the possibility of creating the theater at the school for several years, with a special committee leading the effort. It hasn’t met in months. Ward said there’s been no need for it to hold sessions because there’s nothing for it to do anymore.

Before the city began looking at renovating the aging school’s once grand theater, it had planned to construct a new theater on the 17-acre mall site downtown.

The $100 million mall revitalization project that voters gunned down in 2005 by dumping Mayor Gerard Couture, who favored the plan, included a small performing arts center near the corner of Riverside Avenue and Main Street. It was part of an overall scheme that also included a field house, a civic plaza and a new Bristol Boys and Girls Club.

In 2005, the Fairfield-based AMS Planning & Research firm determined that a community arts center for  theater, music and other cultural activities “can attain the support of a broad sector of the community and be well used.”

“Children and families” are considered the most likely patrons, the consultants said, because “parents and families come out in droves to see their children perform in Bristol.”

“The theater would have the technical capability, fly space and ambiance to accommodate theater, music and dance performances, rehearsals and many other events,” the report said.

The experts said the primary audience for a theater would be Bristol residents and others within a 15-minute drive.

Given “the modest household incomes and education levels among residents in the area,” the center should focus on “affordable and family-oriented programs, including community-based organizations” and events people can take part in, the study suggested.

At the time, officials expressed concern that many other venues in the region, from the Palace Theater in Waterbury to the Warner Theater in Torrington, were struggling to stay afloat. Ward said the recession has made it even tougher for them. He said that if Bristol had a theater now, it would be facing difficulties, too.

For the theater project to move forward, it would need the backing of the City Council and the Board of Finance. Neither panel has even discussed the theater project since the report came out months ago.

Memorial Boulevard School is slated to close when the city finishes two new schools, perhaps in 2015. The city has made no plans for the future of the historic school on Memorial Boulevard, which served initially as the city’s sole high school.


Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at


Curtain call said...

why would we need a theater when the local gop stages a show (farce) at every election?

Odin said...

why would you bother posting such an un-witty comment?

Anonymous said...

I thought it was pretty funny!

Anonymous said...

lets worry about the downtown first

Anonymous said...

Moving BackWARD

Thanks Art.

Anonymous said...

And yet Ward supported a stand alone theater on the Mall site when he was Deputy Mayor.

Again, a switcheroo.

really said...

12:54 - because I am not a republican.

Concerned Conservative said...

Hmmmm, our government has enough money ($150 million) to build new schools that debatably are necessary. However the government does not have enough money ($14 million) to renovate a theater in an empty building (thanks to the new schools) which would be an asset to the community?
It's just more bumbling, bad decisions and another argument for limited government if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

The study on this project indicates it would only draw from with the paramaters of a 15 minute drive and that included the rest of the project along with it. So 14 million dollars for a stand alone theatre that would only draw from a 15 minute drive radius, I would rather watch what you perceive to be the GOP side show every election thatn to watch that money get dumped down the toilet liek the rest of downtown Bristol. We'd be better off filling a dump truck with cash and jsut dumping it on North Main St.

Anonymous said...


It's All About YOU said...

Nobody asked you, Cuckoo Conservative.

Anonymous said...

That 15 min drive radius, already makes its appearance known in New Britain. For those who don't want the trek to NYC or Harford.

The Museum of Modern Art with its continuing exhibitions, the longstanding CCSU symphony orchestra, the playhouse in downtown New Britain, and at the Trinity and Epicopal Churches with their the continuous series of performing arts ranging from jazz to chamber music as well as live comedy.

Suprisingly, New Britain, in spite of all its problems, somehow manages a wide ranging vibrant cultural scene.

Seems like they progressed well beyond the ball fields in New Britain.

Concerned Conservative said...

May 3, 2009 9:20 AM "it's all about you":

Actually with the opportunity to post comments it clearly is/was an invitation to post my opinion.

So while being rude, making unintelligent banter, and without constructive debate you are also completely wrong.

It's All About YOU said...


If we must endure your conservative drivel, so be it.


Odin said...

CC, you are so incredibly partisan it is impossible to take anything you say seriously. Given the economy and the findings of the marketing study, if Ward had pushed ahead with the Memorial Boulevard theater renovation you would have blasted him, and rightfully so. Instead you called postponing the renovation "a bumbling, bad decision". Sorry, but the only bad decision here was when you tried to criticize him for it.

Concerned Conservative said...

Thomaston's town hall and their "Opera House" is a building that is one in the same. Perhaps that could/might be the future of the Memorial Boulevard School?

Although I would prefer to see the building remain the middle school.

Concerned Conservative said...

In 2005, the Fairfield-based AMS Planning & Research firm determined:“the modest household incomes and education levels among residents in the area..."

---So they determined that we wouldn't be getting off-Broadway plays here huh? It takes highly educated pin-heads like that to tell us this? Exactly who hired these jerks? Does Ward and his team sign off on these insulting comments? Outrageous!

Anonymous said...

To bad we won't have a theater because I was thinking we could start holding the Council meetings there. We could all sit back and enjoy watching some real entertainment from some real good Actors aka our current City Leaders), from our nice comfy chairs with the lights dimmed and some popcorn & Coke. It would be a real blockbuster for the fans of stand-up comedy. Encore, encore

p.s.- Don't forget to give your ticket stubs to the nice Union worker at the door.

Anonymous said...

"So while being rude, making unintelligent banter, and without constructive debate you are also completely wrong."

Boy, there's the pot calling the kettle black if I ever heard it!

Anonymous said...

What gives Ward the right to stop a project that was approved by teh Council?

Who does he think he is, Perez?

Anonymous said...


Gee. maybe Ward will switch back?


12:49 - how about the Finance Board and NO MONEY STUPID.

Anonymous said...

But they got money to do up Main Street, which won't attract nobody.
They can't even, and don't, maintain what they did on N Main street, excepy burn a lot of electricity.

Anonymous said...


Wouldn't be surprised, wouldn't be the first time.

true support said...

only republicans switch parties, look at the pubs at wards fundraiser - a new focus on what is right.

Anonymous said...

It is sad to read this. Our elementary schools and one middle school have to use our two high schools for performances. Our new schools being proposed probably will not have auditoriums. Our two high schools are over used and are not in great shape. We really needed a theatre and a strong arts
culture in our city, too!

Anonymous said...

A strong arts culture comes first, then the spending for a theater. Bristol doesn't have an arts culture. Parents paying to watch their daughters in a dance recital is not culture.

The Memorial Boulevard Theater Committee is made up of about a dozen very strong performing art proponents. They aren't speaking out against Ward's decision to hold off on the new theater, because even they realize that the timing is not right.

Anonymous said...

Good letter in today's Press.

General drift is that many people feel the same way.

Anonymous said...

Ward has us going in reverse (or backWARDs).