By LISA CAPOBIANCO
After a seven-month delay, phase one of the Memorial Boulevard Cultural Center project is moving ahead with a 750-seat theater.
The Ten Year Capital Improvement Committee is expected to approve phase one of the Memorial Boulevard Cultural Center and theater project, which the City Council recently voted to move forward with.
The Board of Finance is then expected to allocate $13.3 million in funds for the project, which includes a 750-seat theater.
Within the past year, the Memorial Boulevard Building committee reviewed several different seating options for the theater, including an 800-seat theater. The committee also looked into the possibility of reducing more than half of the 900-plus seats in the theater, which some members of the public opposed. After listening to the public throughout that time, the committee requested city officials to move forward with phase one of the cultural center and a 75-0-seat theater.
Frank Stawski, the chairperson of the Memorial Boulevard Building Committee, said 750 is a good number that provides enough space for social amenities, such as a coat room, ticket office, and space for a concessions area.
“It’s a very good number in utilizing the space we have available,” said Stawski.
City Councilor Jodi Zils Gagne, who also serves on the Memorial Boulevard Building Committee, said local groups like the Older Members Association and the Bristol Brass & Wind Ensemble currently perform in theaters with 750 seats, and usually sell out tickets for their productions.
“That would be the minimum number we could have in that theater if we want to attract any acts or venues of significance,” said Gagne, who has supported a theater with at least 750 seats.
Gagne added that seeing development in the city will inspire more businesses to come to Bristol.
“When we have a theater, other businesses, including retail and dining establishments, will also come to the city in order to accommodate those theater patrons,” said Gagne.
Kim Villanti, an active volunteer of the former Memorial Boulevard Task Force, said she is pleased with the compromise that was reached for a 750-seat theater, which she advocated for. When Villanti served on the Task Force, she spoke with several executive directors of local theaters, who all noted that anything less than 750 seats would be cost prohibitive for folks looking to rent the space there.
“There is a business of theater, and this number will allow theater groups and other entities to rent the space and sell the kinds of tickets needed to be profitable for them,” said Villanti. “I am pleased that those who ultimately voted on this decision did so by listening to the public, those that spoke from a perspective of wanting to rent the space and from others who served on the Task Force who did their homework by speaking to other theaters in order to educated themselves on the business of theater.”
With a theater consisting of 750 seats, the cultural center site would require 352 parking spaces based on current zoning regulations.
The committee recently met with the city planner to discuss parking options, as the building can initially accommodate 164 spaces. However, an aerial view of the area has identified more than the required number of parking spaces, including those on private and city property, said Stawski.
“There is now further work to be done in terms of certain zoning requirements, and then certainly going forward to get the authority to park in different locations,” said Stawski. “We will continue to work on that plan.”