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Owner: Finances may close Smithtown theater

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is on Main Street in Smithtown. (Feb. 20, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

The owner of Smithtown's historic downtown theater says it may close if he can't raise $250,000 by the end of the year.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts last year lost an annual $150,000 grant from Suffolk County, and attendance has been poor at recent shows, said Ken Washington, who is also managing and artistic director of the nonprofit theater.

The dip in revenue caused Washington to scrub a planned production of "Hair" in favor of a show that is cheaper to produce.

Washington said he is not seeking a buyer for the theater -- which has an annual $1 million budget -- but he would consider offers if he can't raise money to keep it open.

He said financial struggles are "not a new problem" for the theater, which he said "generally runs in a deficit."

"It is not insurmountable, but it is uncomfortable," Washington said. " . . . We never have enough money to run this place."

In a letter to Smithtown residents published last week in local newspapers, Washington said the former movie theater must raise at least $250,000 by December.

He said he has raised $4,000 since the letter was published, mostly in small donations averaging $150 each. Washington said he plans to meet with potential donors.

"It's been a little uplifting to see the support we've gotten in the last few days," Washington said.

Smithtown architect Mark Mancini, president of the Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce, said he worries the theater may close. It attracts people, who then patronize other businesses, he said.

"It's definitely an asset to the community to have a theater like that," Mancini said. "If it closes, then what? What happens to it?"

The theater opened in 1933 as a movie house before closing in 2001. Washington and his wife, Laura, bought it the following year and turned it into a theater for live shows.

The Town of Smithtown contributes $50,000 annually, but almost all of the theater's revenue comes from ticket sales, Washington said. Attendance for its current production, "Avenue Q," which opened on April 14 and closes later this month, averaged less than half of the theater's 361-seat capacity, he said.

"I think this is a wake-up call," he said. "We need to supplement the revenue."

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