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.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org