Sag Harbor Cinema to Get Preservation Fund Infusion

With a $4 million boost from Southampton Town's community preservation fund, a project to restore the Sag Habor Cinema moves closer to completion. Durell Godfrey

Four million dollars of Southampton Town’s community preservation fund will be used to buy restrictive use and historic preservation easements on the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, the town board resolved on Tuesday.

The easements mandate that the property remains an arts center in ­perpetuity, and require that the building’s exterior, including its iconic neon Sag Harbor sign, remain unchanged unless approved by the town. Retail space in the building will be limited to 25 percent of its total square footage, and ticket prices must be capped at 80 percent of the average price of local movie tickets. Also, the town will have the right of first refusal if the property is put up for sale.

The C.P.F. money will provide a significant financial boost for the Sag Harbor Partnership, the organization that bought the movie theater site for $8 million after the building was largely destroyed by fire in December 2016. For nearly two years, the partnership has been in fund-raising mode, first to amass the money for the purchase, which was completed in early January, and later to meet construction costs, which it has estimated at $6 million.

Prior to the town board’s unanimous vote, a public hearing was held on the resolution, during which Nick Gazzolo, president of the Sag Harbor Partnership, maintained that the town’s investment in the cinema center would benefit the village’s entire economy. “We had an independent economic impact study done, and their analysis said that the cinema would bring $9.6 million a year to the rest of Main Street. It really is about all of Main Street for us,” he said.

Susan Mead, the partnership’s treasurer, said the $4 million would help the facility launch on a firm financial footing, with no debt and with enough money to hire a staff.

Allen Kopelson, the architect of the center, provided an update on the construction. “The front of the building will be up in about three weeks,” he said, adding that the facade will look exactly as it did before the fire, as will the Art Deco neon sign, which has recently been restored. “One thing that we will be missing is the aroma,” Mr. Kopelson said, referring to a notorious moldy smell that permeated the old space.

A few members of the public, including Robert Anrig, chairman of the town’s C.P.F. advisory board, spoke in opposition to the resolution. Mr. Anrig said that his board had voted unanimously against it, on the grounds that the purchase of the commercial and historic easements were not appropriate uses for the fund and would set a dangerous precedent.

Announcing his vote in favor of 

the resolution, Jay Schneiderman, Southampton Town supervisor, said the purchase was “not just an appropriate use of C.P.F. funds, but an excellent use of C.P.F. funds.” Dedicating money for community preservation is not just about retaining open space, he said, but also about protecting a community’s character through historic preservation. “We probably don’t spend enough on historic preservation,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I think it’s money very well spent, and by the way, it doesn’t break the bank — we still have money left over for other properties.”