Bay Street Rebuffed

Village cites parking, nixes gala date change
Bay Street Theater’s annual gala enjoys a three-sided water view from under a tent on Long Wharf, which closes the pier to parking for several days.

It may have been Valentine’s Day, but Sag Harbor Village officials were showing no love for the Bay Street Theater — at least when it came to Bay Street’s request to change the date of its annual benefit, which is held on the village-owned Long Wharf.

The village board approved the original date of the event — Saturday, July 15 — months ago, and the theater has been advertising that date. However, after learning late last month that the Parrish Art Museum will hold a big fund-raiser on the same night, the 299-seat professional theater asked the board to move its benefit ahead a week, to July 8.

The tented event shuts down Long Wharf, stripping the village of 88 parking spaces from the time the tent goes up to when it comes down, which, the board noted, was four nights last year. The three board members present at Tuesday’s monthly meeting were not keen on the idea of closing the wharf to vehicular traffic on what they said would be part of an extended July 4 weekend.

“You’re asking to take 88 parking spots at the end of the equation so that Alec Baldwin can sit down there and drink his scotch,” said Ken O’Donnell, a member and owner of La Superica, who had made a motion to deny Bay Street’s request. Mr. Baldwin, an Amagansett resident, has attended the benefit in the past.

Ed Deyermond and Mayor Sandra Schroeder agreed, and the request was unanimously denied.

Tracy Mitchell, Bay Street’s executive director, apologized for having to make the request but said a number of patrons had asked the theater not to hold the benefit on the same date as the Parrish’s. Not changing the date would have “a huge potential” impact for the theater, she told the board.

By phone yesterday, she said the event nets $500,000, about 15 percent of the theater’s annual budget. Bay Street’s full budget is around $4 million, she said, “and we need to raise $2 million of that from donations every year."

Ms. Mitchell objected to Mr. O’Donnell’s characterization of the event as a “windfall for Bay Street.” She reminded the board that Bay Street is a nonprofit organization.

“If that’s what he thinks about what Bay Street is, that’s so misguided,” she said yesterday. “I’d welcome anyone who really doesn’t know who we are and what we do to come anytime and talk to me and see what we do, because that’s such an incorrect version of who we are.” She added that the benefit, held for most of its past 26 years on Long Wharf, usually takes place early in July. The only reason they had first requested July 15 this year, she said, was that they thought the Parrish party would be earlier in the month.

“We were actually happy with the date of the 15th,” said Ed Deyermond, another village board member, because that weekend would be less busy in the village. Closing the wharf causes “a financial impact to everybody else who runs a business” in the village, he said. With July 4 falling on a Tuesday, he and Mr. O’Donnell think many people may make it an extended 10-day holiday over the weekends before and after. “By moving this thing back to the eighth . . . it’s a bridge too far,” Mr. Deyermond said.

Mr. O’Donnell also took umbrage at the tent’s being up from Thursday through Sunday, including setup and takedown. Ms. Mitchell said that was in part because the Sag Harbor Partnership, also a nonprofit, used it last year for a benefit the following evening. The “Party for the Park!” raised $131,025, which was donated to the village to assist in the creation of the John Steinbeck Memorial Park.

Ms. Mitchell suggested that the real holiday weekend would be the one leading up to the Fourth. “I recognize there are other opinions on this, but it is our one night to try and do the best we can as a nonprofit,” she told the board. She submitted letters of support for the date change from village business owners.

She also took the time to point out that those involved with the theater had been “really good community supporters,” recently raising $15,000 for the Sag Harbor Fire Department and the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and $2,000 for a Pierson eighth-grade class trip.

“Everything we do, we try and give back to the village, not to mention the fact that the money we do raise is spent here,” she said, adding that only a “small percentage” goes to pay actors from away. “We spend at the restaurants, we spend at the hardware store, we rent houses, we spend at the inns, we hire local people.”

The board did not move to reconsider the matter. After the meeting, Mr. O’Donnell said he was not ignorant of Bay Street Theater’s being a good thing for the village. The theater can still hold its benefit on July 15 on Long Wharf, he said, or perhaps elsewhere in the village, like Havens Beach, at another date.