After renting space for decades, Bay Street Theater needs to relocate.
Its board and professional staff passionately believe this dynamic performing arts center will continue to thrive by remaining in Sag Harbor, a community that has nurtured, supported, and celebrated Bay Street for some thirty years. However, purchasing real estate anywhere on the East End is dictated by zoning, market price, environmental protection, community input, architectural esthetics, economic impact, and more.
Sag Harbor is among those at the epicenter of these various forces as Bay Street Theater, Village Hall, and residents remain committed to preserving the character of the community and its quality of life. Given these realities, how best can Bay Street Theater remain in Sag Harbor and continue its role as a defining community institution?
Bay Street Theater needs to purchase property that will allow it to build a permanent home that will meet today’s playbill and tomorrow’s artistic opportunities.
Following a model used by other artistic institutions requiring a permanent home, a not-for-profit entity was created for the purpose of attracting funds needed to acquire property in downtown Sag Harbor. Friends of Bay Street allowed donors to provide the significant funds required for such a strategic purchase.
All of this is subject to public commentary, review, and scrutiny. As with any development proposal, various village entities included in the process include Planning, Zoning, Harbor, and Architectural reviews.
Protecting and Strengthening the Business District’s Environment
Purchasing property to secure a home for the Theater also means that several local businesses will be displaced.
With an appreciation that the working character of Sag Harbor is an essential community ingredient, a private effort was undertaken by Adam Potter to purchase the former Dodds & Eder property on Bridge Street that would allow existing local businesses to find new, but affordable rental space. Among the decisions made in acquiring property was to ensure, in perpetuity, public access to Steinbeck Park with its unmatched view of the water.
Moving Beyond Words
Over the years, much has been written regarding the absence of workforce housing throughout the East End. Reports, white papers, and editorials have failed to address the crisis.
Mr. Potter’s private purchase of Sag Harbor commercial property would not only provide affordable rental space to local merchants, but would allow for the creation of artist and other potential workforce housing, allowing those who work in the shops and theater to afford living in the community they serve.
Architecture and Design
Perhaps the most subjective element of any development proposal is its design. The initial concept for the theater offers an open and welcoming plaza for visitors and a building that allows much of the adjacent waterfront to be visible to passersby.
As the design evolves we look forward to public comments during the village’s comprehensive review process by the various boards.
Bay Street Theater is compelled to find a permanent home. Our proposal to remain in Sag Harbor is meant to invite discussion, review, comments, and suggestions.
We are open to amending, altering or reconsidering elements of our proposal consistent with the need to create a sustainable home for the theater, and our shared desire to protect the character of our waterfront and surrounding business district.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Over the years, communities across Long Island have too often been taken in by developers who proclaim their altruistic motives only to find later they have been duped into allowing them to create projects that reap enormous personal profits. Most people feel this has already happened with the new single-family condos that are now nearly completely block the view of the waterfront. Convince me this isn’t one of those card games.
A: Friends of Bay Street was created specifically to keep the Theater in Sag Harbor. The Theater has grown here because of the support of the community, becoming more than just a robust cornerstone of the business district, but an important part of Sag Harbor’s identity. Securing a permanent home in a challenging real estate environment—even before COVID—revealed an existential milestone for the theater. In purchasing land for Bay Street it became apparent that we needed to address the dislocation of commercial enterprises while adding public amenities at no cost to the taxpayer. One couldn‘t do that with the not-for-profit Friends of Bay Street. The strategy is transparent, the need is obvious, and we believe Adam Potter acquiring additional property allows us to make good on approaching this mile stone holistically.
Q: You speak of transparency regarding your motives but we don’t know who your partners are in Friends of Bay Street or whether you have partners in your private acquisitions. And why do we have to make multiple requests to name names.
A: At the moment, the largest funding will be coming from Bay Street Board of Trustees whose members are publicly recognized.
Many people will be recognized for donating but the fact remains that many of those same people who donate sizeable gifts to not-for-profits are reluctant to be publicly acknowledged because they are then pursued by every other worthy not-for-profit seeking to be a beneficiary of their largesse. Case in point: The recent campaign that raised money to rebuild the Sag Harbor Cinema was successful because of two one million dollar gifts, both of them anonymous.
When it comes time to build, we will then ask our donors if they wish to be publicly recognized later in the process, at which time we will seek opportunities for their recognition. In truth, however, the largest donors will most likely not wish to be recognized.
Q: This seems to have gone far beyond acquiring a permanent home for Bay Street. Adam Potter seems to have positioned himself—intentionally or not—as a mini-master planner for Sag Harbor. Affordable housing, waterfront and park access, rededicated public parking—and then there is the Theater: Shouldn’t planning for Sag Harbor be the jurisdiction of Village Hall and the people who elected them?
A: Friends of Bay Street have one mission—to build Bay Street a new home. That is it.
The rest of the aformentioned has nothing to do with the Theater, though Bay Street firmly believes that the goals of sustainability, the protection of the waterfront and its views, as well as the possibility of some affordable housing down the road, would all be good for the village.
There has never been a question as to who is responsible for planning in the Village of Sag Harbor. But once the waterfront properties became available, we recognized the reality of keeping Bay Street in the village would be lost forever if we didn’t move quickly on a purchase. So, despite extraordinary real estate hitting historic highs, we were presented with a unique opportunity to not only secure a permanent home for the theater, with public spaces and access at no cost to the taxpayer.
Q: If the village modifies your theater design, does it kill your plans to permanently locate Bay Street in Sag Harbor. And if that happens, what happens to the property you have invested in? And if the development moratorium is extended, at what point do you have to drop these plans?
A: We can work within any number of modifications the Village may request. It would be inappropriate for Bay Street Theater to negotiate those modifications through a forum such as this. However, in direct answer to your question: Yes, at some point, if a moratorium were to be extended for an indefinite period of time, or zoning restrictions prevented the creation of a theater that works, Bay Street Theater would be forced to find new quarters outside the village.
Q: Do you intend to conduct additional informational meetings?
A: Community outreach is a process. What we have begun to do is to sit down with our neighbors, business owners, residents, and taxpayers who recognize that this an opportunity to leverage private money for the public good, to ensure a nationally respected theater remains strong, and can continue to fulfill its mission as a community center, supporting all of its residents and their needs. We will continue that outreach.