Bay Street’s second act leads to drama in Sag Harbor
OOn the sunny but windy afternoon of April 23 in Sag Harbor, the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park was in turmoil. Citizens filled the generally calm terrain on the outskirts of the village, where the mayor, several administrators, the village attorney and others called a meeting to discuss a controversial development that could mean profound change for the community. But this was not a meeting to discuss the threat of a big box store corporatizing the charming village, or large condos marketing the historic waterfront. Instead, villagers feared that a beloved arts institution with two decades of goodwill had become the subject of the biggest controversy Sag Harbor had seen in years.
“I want to be very clear – this is not a pro-Bay Street or anti-Bay Street conversation,” Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy said in her opening speech. “Personally, I am delighted that Bay Street (Theater) has bought the property behind me and will stay here in the village, and I hope and hope that something beautiful will be built here. Mulcahy was referring to the brick building directly behind her, known as the Water Street Shops, which currently houses, among other things, a 7-Eleven, one of the only chain stores in Sag Harbor.
The building was purchased by the new Friends of Bay Street nonprofit in October 2020 for nearly $ 13.9 million. On April 6, Bay Street Theater hosted a pre-recorded video presentation revealing renderings of the planned new facility, which will house a 299-seat theater, a space dedicated to the organization’s educational programs year-round, a center for development new work, a landscape store and storage space and more.
The renderings shown in the video raised more than a few red flags with the community, which led to the April 23 reunion. On the one hand, the building planned by the architectural firm Roger Ferris + Partners seems quite large. Many were concerned that the building would not meet the 25-foot height limit on the waterfront property under the village’s zoning rules, blocking waterfront views to the rest of Sag Harbor.
Mulcahy responded to the many rumors circulating about the developments, including that the Friends of Sag Harbor were planning to buy and demolish more buildings. Although some of the rumors could not be confirmed or denied, Mulcahy described the facts: In addition to the 7-Eleven building, the group also bought the Dodds & Eder building, plans to buy 2 Main Street and leave it open to be part of it. of Steinbeck Waterfront Park and is looking to lease the National Grid Gas Ball property, which is currently used as a municipal parking lot.
Multiple purchases of high profile properties and the growing rumor mill have led to the feeling that the new Bay Street Theater was just the first step in a wealthy developer’s plans to redevelop Sag Harbor with a vision that does not match the history or personality of the village. .
Friends of Bay Street was founded less than a year ago by Adam Potter as Friends of Bay Street and Sag Harbor Redevelopment, Inc., although it has since moved away from the second half of its name. But Potter, a stranger to the tight-knit village, has done little to allay community fears, despite promising to open a new convenience store as consolation for the closure of 7-Eleven.
The developments have even alarmed the artistic community. April Gornik, founder of the artist residency center L’Église and chair of the Sag Harbor Cinema Board, sent a letter to Sag Harbor Express with his worries. Gornik wrote: “We were all delighted that our beloved Bay Street Theater, an important cultural pillar of the village, will remain here in Sag Harbor, but the presentation made on Tuesday April 6 left out critical points … also not know who the supporter of Adam Potter, the representative of the Friends of Bay Street, is. Gornik underlined these points in his letter, noting that “the purchases may be legal, but this obfuscation appears to be duplicity, and makes our beloved Bay Street look like a distraction from a bigger land grab.
The proposed changes to waterfront zoning laws, which have been underway for years, further complicate matters. There is currently a moratorium on waterfront development. During the meeting, Mulcahy surprised many when she said the shops on Water Street do not technically count as waterfront properties.
After the meeting, Mulcahy explained his problems with the Friends of Bay Street. “I am a strong supporter of Bay Street,” she said Dan Papers“We just have to make sure they don’t take over from us. I think there are a lot of problems. Some people don’t think it should be here. What they showed [in the renderings] are too big. And there are all the other ancillary things, ”she said. “We cannot let one thing take over our village.”
Overlooking both the park and the controversial end of Steinbeck Park is an unfinished 48-foot-tall property in development for several years.
Potter, along with Bay Street Theater executive director Tracy Mitchell, have chosen not to comment on this story and will be holding a public forum on Saturday, May 1 at 4 p.m. at the theater to discuss their plans. With more questions than answers, Sag Harbor appears to be in the opening act of a drama that won’t reach its climax for some time.