Movie Theater Makes Its Move

A downtown movie theater is one step closer to reality.

Westport Cinema Initiative has just signed a lease for 154 Main Street — currently a parking lot behind Tavern on Main.

Plans are already being drawn for 3 screens, plus production facilities and multipurpose rooms. Rick Hoag is the architect; Michael Nishball a consultant. The hope is to go before the Planning & Zoning Commission by spring.

There will be screenings 365 days a year, including Saturday matinees for young children, and teen programming Saturday late afternoons.

The WCI is a “membership model independent cinema” — supported, in other words, by community members. A charter membership opportunity will be unveiled at the next screening: “The Great Gatsby” (February 2, 4 p.m., Christ & Holy Trinity Church — part of WestportREADS).

Westport Cinema InitiativeWCI already has more than $300,000 in pledges and donations. They hope to raise $4 million, to cover building and equipment costs, and provide 2 years of operating expenses.

For the past 2 ½ years, 34 “angels” have given enough funding for bimonthly screenings. Those will continue until the theater is built. They’re held at venues around town. Rental of big screens, and appropriate movie projection, costs far more than a dedicated movie house.

A movie theater in downtown Westport. What will they think of next!

18 responses to “Movie Theater Makes Its Move

  1. Babette d'Yveine

    This is welcome news, but I wonder about the height of the building. Last time it was proposed at 60 feet.

  2. Movie theater appears to be quite alive, Paul. Thanks for the business card. What kind of file do I need for the printer? 12:30 tomorrow, barring a blizzard? Dave > >

  3. This is a tough call. As much as I greatly miss the Fine Arts theatres (all 3 of them!), the taking of precious downtown parking spaces to create a new movie theatre might require a little more thought. Where will the theatre-goers park ???

    • I agree parking will be a challenge, but I miss the FIVE Fine Arts Theaters that used to be downtown, as well as the Post Cinema!

  4. What a joke. When the “angels” stop funding losses then what? If the Community Theatre in Fairfield can’t make it, with 100 times the foot traffic and proximity to thousands of University students, then this has no shot at all.

  5. It would nice if this work but tough to make a go of it as an independent theater without access to first run movies. With multiple, convenient ways to access older films (e.g. Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, among others), paying to see them in a larger venue is a tough sell. We went to the Community Theater in Fairfield a number of times and it was never terribly crowded and, as noted above, ultimately failed. I’m guessing parking availability will be the least of anyones worries.

    Good luck if you proceed.

  6. What is needed and would succeed is a center in town that has vibrant programming for people of all ages, especially catering to teens on the weekend evenings. A place that offers a state-of-the-art health club and pool, basketball and squash courts, bowling alley, rec room with things like ping pong/pool tables, a theater for plays put on by the kids in the acting classes offered, and for stimulating lectures and films. A place that also offers extra-curricular classes in the arts like acting, pottery, jewelry making, cooking, photography, and adult education. Sounds like we need a JCC in our town. Too bad that ship has sailed. No one does it better.

  7. May I offer a few clarifications to the comments above?
    1) We are designed a building no more than two stories tall and well below 60 feet high. We were never planning on a taller building. That was P&Z.
    2) We’re seeking a parking exemption from P&Z because our screenings will be a “complementary use,” occurring mostly after prime business hours when parking is generally available. The small private parking lot which the theater will occupy disposesses about 6-8 cars which park there daily. If that’s the tipping point for downtown parking, I’d be surprised!
    3) Our angels funded modest operational costs covering fewer than 8 screenings annually. That does NOT describe our membership model going forward when we go to full programming — including first-run movies and many early second runs (but not the blockbusters, obviously). The Fairfield theater failed for reasons totally unrelated to the challenges faced by most community theaters– most of them quite successfully. It was very poorly run (and is NOT proximate to college students!). We are very confident about our business model, based on input from other similar theaters nationwide — which don’t even have Westport’s inherent advantage of historically supporting cultural venues.

    We’re glad to share more information on our plans and appreciate all the support we’ve received to date. Your concerns are legitimate and we’ve explored and answered each of them to our satisfaction.

    Jonathan Steinberg, President
    Westport Cinema Initiative

    • Jonathan, We can only hope that you’re more successful with funding for the cinema initiative than you have been in solving CT’s fiscal mess: “State Facing $365 Million Budget Deficit, Poor Credit Quality”

    • Jonathan get a map the Fairfield Community Theatre is less than a mile from Fairfield University. Membership model? Second run films? Ever hear of Netflix? There aren’t 100 people in town who care about this.

  8. It appears the price of entry to the Westport Democratic party is to champion a ridiculous piece of downtown over development – even better if it is a non-profit. At least they’re consistent.

  9. It would be nice if the WCI and the Westport Library could find common ground to meet their individual interests with a single auditorium.

  10. Three screens? I’d be happy with just one.

    • Three small screens (with low ceilings) can later be converted to retail/office space more easily than one large screen (with a high ceiling).

    • Evidently, there is a huge built up demand to watch quality features like Rudy and The Great Gatsby in a communal setting.