New owner has big plans for former Islip Theater

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The Islip Theater, which residents rallied to save from demolition, has been granted an encore.

Under a new name, the Dorotheater, it will offer movies and music and house its own symphony orchestra, said the building's new owner, Edward Lambese, who chose the name to honor his mother, Dorothy.

"The building said, 'Help me!' " Lambese said. "It was nothing short of a miracle."

The former owner, Jim Nazzaro, applied to the Islip planning board earlier this year to raze the vacant cinema, which stopped showing movies in 2006, and build a day care center on the property, on Main Street in Islip. Though Nazzaro, of East Islip, had already entered into an agreement with a New Jersey-based day care center chain, The Learning Experience, he gave Lambese permission to begin cleaning up the building in case the day care deal fell through.

Nazzaro, a developer, withdrew the application for the day care center on Nov. 25. His withdrawal letter to the town did not cite a reason.

Nazzaro did not respond to requests for comment.

Lambese, a professional string player who performs with the West Islip Symphony, said his purchase of the 60-year-old cinema was finalized two weeks ago. He would not disclose the sale price.

Town Planning Commissioner Gene Murphy said the town is pleased by the plot twist.

"The planning department had concerns about the scale of day care," he said. "The goal of preserving the theater and preserving its use as a theater is something the town completely supports."

Lambese, 53, of Bay Shore, said he's tentatively planning an opening concert for early January, pending a furnace repair. He has submitted an application for nonprofit status.

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His vision of the space - "a little Radio City Music Hall" - will require major renovations: new plumbing, new air conditioning and a conversion, in progress, from triplex to the original single auditorium. But shows can begin in the upstairs auditorium, he said.

Acknowledging the recession and the recent closure of Huntington's IMAC Theater, Lambese said his business model is different. "We're going to be a multipurpose entertainment playhouse," he said. "It's going to serve the community's entertainment needs."

The theater will present live performances on weekends and classic movies during the week, he said.

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