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Southampton's $4M donation pushes Sag Harbor Cinema to fundraising goal

Interior cutaway elevation view of the proposed new

Interior cutaway elevation view of the proposed new Sag Harbor Cinema by Allen Kopelson of NK Architects and Croxton Collaborative Architects. Credit: NK Architects and Croxton Collaborative Architects

Southampton Town officials approved spending $4 million to acquire development rights at the Sag Harbor Cinema, a decision that ensures the property remains a movie theater and covers the bulk of reconstruction costs for the fire-damaged building.

The town board voted 5-0 during its meeting Tuesday in favor of using Community Preservation Funds — money that comes from a 2 percent tax on real estate transfers — to purchase a restrictive-use easement and a historic preservation easement from the property’s owner, the nonprofit Sag Harbor Partnership.

Reconstruction of the theater at 90 Main St., which was damaged in a December 2016 fire, is expected be completed in fall 2019, said April Gornik, the nonprofit’s vice president.

“We look forward to bringing the cinema back,” she said on Wednesday.

The town money brings the partnership to its $6 million construction goal, but Gornik said the organization will continue raising funds to cover staffing and operational costs.

As part of the deal, the cinema must also keep tickets affordable, or set at 80 percent of the local average movie ticket price, town officials said.

Some community members, including Community Preservation Fund Advisory Committee chairman Robert Anrig, said they did not think the proposal was an appropriate use of CPF money, as the building’s location within a national historic district already bestows protections. The five board members said they disagreed with that statement.

“What the CPF allows us to do is preserve community character,” said councilwoman Christine Scalera. “I think it’s a perfectly suited purchase for CPF.”

The Southampton funds are the largest single infusion of cash into the project, which in addition to the $6 million construction cost, included an $8 million campaign to buy the property in January. Other large funding sources include a $1.4 million Empire State Development grant announced in December 2017, a $1 million donation from artist Eric Fischl and a $500,000 pledge from recording artist Billy Joel.

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