A future art house for film in New Paltz will take some time to get off the ground. According to village officials, the proposed Water Street Cinema has several hurdles to clear before the box office prints Ticket No. 1 on opening night.
“The benefits to the community, I think, are great here. But I don’t like losing housing,” planning board chairman Maurice Weitman said. “This is one thing we’d like more of, rather than less.”
Water Street Cinema is planned for 12 Main Street, currently a two-family house for rent. The two men behind the project, Howard Sachar and Chuck Silver, want to rehab the old yellow house into a three-screen cinema with a small cafe serving meals between shows. Converting the house into a theater would mean a modest loss in the supply of rental housing in the village.
Village planning board members also had questions about how much traffic a theater near the corner of Main Street and Water Street would generate, and how parking would be handled.
“By design, putting this here, some of the people using this theater will walk there and some of the people would park and walk into town,” said Michael Zierler, a planning board member.
Hypothetical pedestrian theatergoers aside, Sachar and Silver still need to provide information about parking and traffic. That calculation would be influenced by the hours of operation. Silver said the theater would have shows running later than when most other Water Street Market businesses are open. Early movies would let out at 9 p.m. and late movies would get out at 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. “I think they might be past peak hours,” Silver said.
The Water Street Cinema application is very early on in the process, having met with the planning board only twice. The project has already garnered interest from mayor Jason West, deputy mayor Sally Rhoads and trustee Brian Kimbiz, all of whom attended last week’s meeting.
Silver, like Sachar a movie buff, lists Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” as his favorite flick. The two men behind Water Street Cinema both remember New Paltz’s past in the 1970s, when Donald Bellinger of the Academy Theater was still screening movies. “We all kind of look back fondly to when it existed,” Silver said.
Water Street Cinema will have advantages the old theater did not. The three theaters will have digital sound and digital projection with stadium seating in all three screening rooms. The largest space will include room for live performances to take place. “It seems like a great thing for the community,” Silver said.
Theresa Fall of Water Street Market is the woman behind the market’s annual film competition and free outdoor movies during the summer. She doesn’t view the planned cinema as competition.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s only going to be a great thing for the community,” Fall said. “It could take a long time, but I think the project itself could only enhance New Paltz … Water Street’s in full support of it.”
Water Street Market’s events coordinator has a personal stake in the project. Fall is one of the neighbors who might see traffic patterns change if the theater goes through. She’s optimistic that the project would be an asset to the village. “I really like that they’re going the route of taking one of the cinemas and using it as a community stage. I think that’s something that New Paltz is really lacking,” she said.
If Water Street Cinema is built, the market plans to continue to hold its outdoor movies during the summer.
Solar panels and other green technologies will play some role at the theater, but Sachar and Silver haven’t gone into too much detail. “As mentioned at the meeting,” Silver said, “we also plan to make this an outstanding example of applied green technologies.”
Water Street Cinema would be a nonprofit entity relying on memberships and fundraisers for support. It would be a mission-based theater devoted to screening films that wouldn’t be shown at a commercial movie house.
It’s possible that members of the public will get to weigh in on Water Street Cinema as early as April. In March, the theater owners need to submit traffic information and other data to the board, before that public information session can take place.
Water Street Cinema also needs to secure a special-use permit for the new theater use and for the cafe. The project also needs to go through at least one public hearing and environmental review. The county planning board may review it. Water Street Cinema will also need a subdivision review for a small tweak in the lot lines and a final site-plan review.
The aspiring theater owners acknowledge the work yet to do. “We’re in the early part of determining the construction, the building and how it will be built,” Silver says. Sachar and Silver are hopeful that Water Street Cinema might be ready in time for fall of 2013.