City Looks To Get Out Of Showbiz

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAfter nearly two decades with an ownership stake in the Shubert, the city took a step Monday night toward handing the theater off to new owners.

Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy officially submitted to the Board of Aldermen a proposed deal that would transfer the 98-year-old theater to the not-for-profit that has been managing it for nearly 10 years, the Connecticut Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA).

The plan is now headed to an aldermanic committee for consideration ahead of a vote by the full board. Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez said before Monday night’s aldermanic meeting that he hadn’t yet decided which committee to send the proposal to.

The city has had some degree of ownership of the Shubert for about two decades, and has owned the theater outright for over 10 years. The building hasn’t been renovated in nearly 30 years and is need of about $7 million in repairs. The city pays an annual subsidy to the theater—$249,000 this year, down from $456,000 in 2006. The city helped two private developers, the Fusco Corporation and Joel Schiavone, renovate (and reopen) the theater and other nearby buildings to jump-start what would become a successful “new-urbanist” downtown revival.

Under the proposed new deal, the city would give CAPA the theater along with $3 million. CAPA would then raise the remaining $4 million for repairs through some combination of grants, private donations, and state and federal assistance, said John Fisher, Shubert’s executive director. The city’s annual subsidy would taper down to zero over the next 10 years.

The deal has a number of advantages for both parties, said city spokeswoman Anna Mariotti: The city wouldn’t be on the hook for $7 million in repairs, and the theater could raise funds as a free-standing organization in ways that it can’t under city ownership, like by creating an endowment.

Economic development officer Chris Canna said the move is part of a national trend. Lots of municipalities that took over struggling theaters are now handing them over to not-for-profits, he said.

“We think it’s a very good idea,” Fisher said before Monday night’s meeting. The plan would “relieve the city and the taxpayers of the burden of the building.”

He said the building needs a new fire escape, renovated stairwells, new heating and air-conditioning systems, and repointing of its brickwork.

Downtown Alderman Doug Hausladen, who counted the Shubert as part of his ward until recent redistricting, said he thinks the plan is a good one, so long as the theater remains “a publicly accessible and available building.”

The theater needs some major work, he said. “Removing that liability from our balance sheet is probably a good thing.”

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posted by: Walt on April 16, 2013  9:42am

A royal screwing for the City taxpayer over the past years, but probably this is for the best in the long run.

If only the City had not believed promises of the “Ahhts”  community 30 or so years ago that a rebuild and a couple of years subsidy by the City would allow the Shubert to become self- supporting

When that promise was finally recognized as BS, if only the City hadn’t bought the phony idea that taking over its ownership would make everything OK—-the taxpayers would have really saved a bundle.

Now,  it has been officially deemed worth absolutely nothing, but this new proposal may at least save the taxpayers a few bucks for a few years until the Ahhts     folk sell another fallacy to City leaders/

Note to Editors if you do not like the word “screwed”.. how about “bamboozled”  ?


posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on April 16, 2013  11:18am

Why $3M with the keys to the theater?
Why cant the taxpayers of New Haven just walk away. 20 years of subsidies aren’t enough? If we pour another $3M into it and CAPA fails in a couple years, will we come to the rescue again?
I wish we could limit our city government to spending on the basics: policing, education garbage removal, etc. I am sick of subsidizing feel good projects like the theater, out reach workers, ID cards and tennis tournaments.

posted by: Bill Saunders on April 16, 2013  1:57pm

The problem isn’t money, it’s poor programming…..

posted by: Stylo on April 16, 2013  1:58pm

They do not make use of the full potential of that place.

With all the college students in New Haven, they could be selling out music shows constantly with national touring acts.

I saw Ryan Adams there once and it was brilliant. Great place to see rock music.

They need someone like Bowery Presents to be managing their bookings for non-off-Broadway shows.

posted by: swatty on April 16, 2013  3:53pm

Why are we giving them 3 million? That makes no sense for me the taxpayer. Let them play this the old fashioned Smith Barney way: let them earn it! Or fold trying.

posted by: Walt on April 16, 2013  4:13pm

New Haven Taxpayer

You are right of course.  I missed that part.

Other CT venues have successfully replaced the Shubert because of   mistakes in past years. 

Time to take a few pieces from the   walls of the Shubert lobby, give them to the N.H.  Colony Historical Society for exhibit   and demolish the rest I think..

posted by: anonymous on April 16, 2013  7:03pm

The Mayoral candidates need to set some priorities. How about some pleasant streets to walk on. After we do this, we can think about museums and theaters.

The wide, truck-centered, one-way streets throughout downtown destroy the potential for economic development in our city.  Look at what we did with the one block of Temple Street - we narrowed it, dramatically widened the sidewalks, and added a mid-block crosswalk.  The rows of empty storefronts filled up practically overnight, creating hundreds of jobs for New Haven residents for the price of a few granite curbs.

The $3M spent on this theater could have provided wide sidewalks, bike lanes, lighting, street trees, and “Downtown Ambassador” patrols (if the city’s Police Union would ever allow more of those) throughout downtown and the neighborhoods—something which would have created far more jobs, and kept them here permanently.

posted by: streever on April 17, 2013  1:36pm

I think that cities like Montreal present a different way of doing this: greater subsidies for the arts in Montreal have turned it into a destination city.

I type this from Abingdon, VA, where the local government finances and manages the Barter Theater—which actively works to provide works which are appreciated by the local community—a healthy model that I think New Haven should emulate.

There is no reason why the Shubert can not continue to receive subsidies and do as the Barter does:
1. offer flexible ticketing prices and heavily feature local actors and students
2. perform a certain number of locally produced and staffed performances (musical or theatrical)
3. offer shows that cater to residents of the area with a heavy emphasis on bringing productions to New Haven that New Haveners want (has the Shubert ever put out a questionnare for the general public?

Cities and States can and should fund the arts: it provides path ways for students and children who are drawn to the arts. However, the model in New Haven is not a good one, nor is it even a deliberate model—it is merely what has been cobbled together by people who do not think deeply about what they are doing and the long-term effects, crafted by patronage, in a small circle of folks who help each other without engaging the public.

posted by: NH16214 on April 17, 2013  8:31pm

I don’t know about you but I’ve enjoyed the Shubert a lot over the past couple of years. I’ve brought my family to numerous shows. I am glad that the City is trying to fix the building and think this is a good plan that will save the City money in the long term.

posted by: TheMadcap on April 18, 2013  10:22am

How willfully blind does someone need to be to say the Shubert failed? You may disagree with how the city went about, but given the number of plays and acts there every year and how filled the shows usually are, we’re a bit far from failed. There’s nothing wrong with subsiding the arts, it helps make a city a vibrant city vs just a collection of houses, business towers and run down factories.

posted by: Walt on April 18, 2013  11:00am

It is probably good that folks like Streever and NH16214 enjoy the Shubert but I do not know why other New Haven and CT taxpayers should be subsidizing them;

If Joe Taxpayer wants to go bowling, or to the movies ,or to play golf, or go out dancing,  or to enjoy a few beers etc.  he usually has to pay his own way plus a profit for the   owners,  but the Ahhts folk, on an average I’d bet on   a somewhat higher economic level than most,  require subsidies.  Makes no sense as I see it.

If memory is correct, and it is not always as good as it was,  30 years ago,  when the Shubert rebuild was the goal of enthusiastic Art folk,  the subsidy was close to $10 for each person, each time he attended the Shubert.  Presumably it is much higher now

Subsidy by the restaurants in the area who may make money from Shubert customers could help a bit,  and increased ticket prices for Shubert enthusiasts would help too but those people want others to pay for their enjoyment and/or profits

posted by: NHPDHartman on April 18, 2013  11:41am

The Shubert Theater is ONE of the last non-Yale ‘cultural anythings’ to exist downtown. Its preservation, renovation and success is hugely important to the areas growth and vitality. The walls of this world famous and historical theater are a time capsule, the likes of which even Broadway theaters can’t boast.

As it’s come down to money, my opinion is this - Measuring the amount of money that theater patrons bring to other businesses downtown is impossible. Paid parking alone brings in thousands per show. In general, such numbers are tailored to the egos of planners.

I, for one, don’t need to hear the numbers. I’ve been an eyewitness to its contribution. As an Officer who walked a downtown beat for ten years, I saw firsthand the droves of people leaving restaurants and shops, heading into the Shubert lobby. New Haven needs this theater and needs to support its growth.

They needed to do the same in the 80s with the Palace Theater, which is now a rotting carcass of what once had potential.

As Oscar Wilde said, “The stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but is also the return of art to life”.