New Paltz residents, planners debate black-box theater proposed for Main St.

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

The review process for the proposed black-box theater above Water Street Market at 12 Main Street in New Paltz began in earnest at the June 20 village planning board meeting. That’s when the full application for the 50-70-seat venue was first publicly considered, and several members of the public shared their thoughts with board members.

The building’s parking would largely be on Water Street Market property, from where theatergoers would follow a walkway to the proposed structure, which according to architect Richard Miller would have a brown, rusted finish on steel siding to blend in better with the background. Inside the space would be flexible enough to adapt to the needs of different productions, hence the seating is represented as a range. Miller anticipates the structure could go up in two months, four at the outside.

Anne Muller, who owns rental property adjacent to the site, was not impressed. A similar theater in Sarasota, Florida that developer Harry Lipstein created is not a “good analog” to this proposal, because it’s embedded in a business district where impacts on residential and historic neighborhoods were likely not an issue. “This would have a great deal of impact,” Muller said, both during construction and throughout its existence. She encouraged board members to “see past the pizzazz” of bringing an arts venue to the community, and focus on issues like traffic instead.


Village resident Mark Portier, on the other hand, spoke of how this was an “incredible opportunity” to “thrill and beguile our local community” with independent theater productions. He painted a picture of arts-hungry locals spending money on food and drink before wandering over to the theater on foot. “I respect the quality-of-life concerns,” said Portier, a former village trustee, but he urged board members to work on solving those problems in a way that ensured the theater comes to pass.

“People don’t like change,” said Theresa Fall. She owns two businesses at Water Street Market, which Lipstein also owns, and manages the events there, but she said she first got to know Lipstein because her house backs onto that property. Every concern she raised was addressed, something she expects would happen with the theater as well. “This is a gift,” she said, one she’d like her community to accept.

Planning board member Rich Steffens wasn’t confident in Miller’s construction-time estimates, and suggested test bores to find out how hard the rock is at that location. No blasting is planned, but Steffens thought it would be worthwhile to test the rock. “There’s some really hard shale in New Paltz,” he said.

It’s clear that concerns about traffic, particularly traffic on Wurts Avenue, are being heard. Plans to use Water Street Market for parking hinge upon shows only happening when the market is quiet in the evenings; matinees would likely lead to the nightmare parking situation nearby neighbors fear. Board attorney Richard Golden noted that regulating hours of operation is beyond board members’ purview, but that the applicant can “self-bind” by voluntarily agreeing to such limitations in writing. Chairman Michael Zierler said that such an agreement will be a critical component of this plan.

When this application is again on the agenda, that agreement might be in hand, together with other changes the chairman asked for to clarify the paperwork and deem the application complete for review purposes.

There is one comment

  1. Langley J.

    A similar project in another university town has been extremely successful. It produces dozens of live
    performances per year, attracts hundreds of new visitors to the downtown and local businesses there can directly correlate increased sales, and strong on-going business to the black box theatre. This is exactly the kind of new project a downtown like New Paltz needs to diversify and draw new customers.

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