Work on securing the American Festival Shakespeare Theatre will go forward after the Town Council voted Monday to hire an architect to plan the theater’s stabilization.
Council members voted 6-3 to hire Marvel Architects to develop the building documents that will be used to secure the long-empty theater off Elm Street.
Marvel will be paid $95,000 from money the town bonded in 2008 for the restoration of the theater.
The vote took place after 7th District Councilman Marianne “Mitzi” Antezzo opted to reconsider her vote on the contract at the March 13 council meeting, which wound up deadlocked.
Antezzo said she wanted to investigate the deal to make sure taxpayers wouldn’t be burdened in paying for it.
“They’re securing the building and it can be done before you move into the tax credits [to renovate the building] and so forth,” Antezzo said. “We’ll see where it goes from there. I wanted to get step one going.”
Monday’s vote is a major victory for Council Chairman Beth Daponte, who had wanted to hire a firm to start the process of sealing the theater. The Marvel contract was recommended by the Shakespeare Subcommittee and the Building Needs Committee.
“It’s wonderful. It’s the first step in getting that theater at least stabilized and in the long run renovated,” Daponte said after Monday’s meeting. “I’m optimistic that one of these days we will eventually have a functioning performing arts center there. This was the very first step. Sometimes the first step is the hardest step.”
Daponte called Monday’s vote “a baby step, but a giant step at the same time.”
The theater needs to be sealed for protection from the elements and animals, as there have been reports of raccoons getting inside.
Marvel will develop the building documents needed for the work, Daponte said. Those documents will be used to hire a contractor through a request for proposals process. Daponte said Marvel will speak with the community during the process and give the town an estimate for how much it will cost to fix the theater.
Stabilizing the building will allow the town to find potential investors and partners, Daponte said. After that, the town can partner with a non-profit agency to do the fund-raising for the theater.
Voting no were 2nd District Councilman Scott Farrington-Posner, 3rd District Councilman Wali Kadeem and 10th District Councilman Tina Manus. Philip Young, the 6th District representative, was not at Monday’s meeting.
Manus said her no vote was an easy decision to make.
“Nothing is going to be done to fix, restore, or even stabilize the theater with this money,” said Manus in an email. “[Ninety-five thousand dollars] for what? Drawings? The puddle on the main stage, the raccoons, and the rats will all remain. No one in Stratford will be put to work with this. Not one job will come of it.”
Critics of the Marvel plan prefer to have a renovation and restoration plan already in place. Some have called for the Town Council to work with the Elm Street Theater Group, one of two groups vetted by the previous Town Council to fix the theater. The last council instead chose to work with Stratford Stage Group LLC on a contract. The current council opted not to sign a contract with SSG, citing concerns about plans to build an inn on the theater grounds.