When the Montauk Playhouse closed in the early 1970s, it was a movie theater in disrepair, with directors’ chairs for seats and falling tiles disrupting screenings.
The building became a “skeleton of steel,” said Lisa DeVeglio, president of the Montauk Playhouse Community Center Foundation’s board of directors. But DeVeglio and the foundation, which formed in 1999, “never wanted to give up on it.”
Nearly 20 years later, the foundation’s capital campaign to turn half of the building into the Cultural Arts and Aquatics Center is $2 million from fruition, attracting $3 million in private donations since 2005 and securing a $3 million commitment from the Town of East Hampton’s board on June 15, said Susan Henkin, the foundation’s executive director.
She said about 1,100 private donors have invested in the project, which includes a multipurpose space for events ranging from theater and musical performances to conferences, as well as an aquatics center with two pools, according to a news release. The second half of the building, completed in 2006, includes a day care center and a gym.
“This has been an exciting project,” said Henkin, who joined the foundation in 2016 as its first executive director and primary fundraiser. “We’ve been able to really refocus the community on how important this project is.”
Construction on the 22,000-square-foot space would last 12 to 15 months, Henkin said, adding that officials hope to break ground within 18 months.
Though the campaign struggled to garner financial support between 2006 and 2016 — due largely to a lack of donor partnerships — Henkin said its momentum this past year leaves her hopeful the foundation will raise the $2 million before 2019.
The remaining phase of the campaign will focus primarily on meeting with residents who own second homes in the area and visit seasonally, Henkin said. She noted that 12 such owners committed the last $500,000 in private donations.
Second-home owners are “really interested” in the cultural arts center and the possibility of musical performances, TED talks and master classes, Henkin said. Local residents have expressed more enthusiasm for the aquatics center for swimming and training, she added.
DeVeglio has lived in Montauk for 46 years, and stressed the importance of the community center as an outlet for area residents.
“When the kids have a show — there’s a dance studio — they have to have it in East Hampton, in the high school,” she said. “We’d like to have a place out here for them to do it.”
The nearest facility that offers an aquatics center and recreational space is the YMCA East Hampton RECenter, which is about 20 minutes from Montauk and “very overused,” DeVeglio said. Residents had also voiced concerns to the town board in March about the lack of local space for youth after a teen overdosed in January.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said a center like this addresses that concern, largely because it will be “multipurpose, multiage, multigenerational and multicultural.”
“It’s going to open opportunities,” he said.
To learn more about the project, visit www.montaukplayhouse.org/.