Why Not Use CPF Money for the Sag Harbor Cinema?

Will Sag Harbor Cinema's iconic neon sign return to burn more brightly than ever?
Will Sag Harbor Cinema's iconic neon sign return to burn more brightly than ever? Photo: Barbara Lassen

As of this week, those who love Sag Harbor have raised more than $5 million toward the $8 million dollars needed to buy the Sag Harbor Cinema from Jerry Mallow. The full sum is needed by the end of this year. Otherwise the deal falls apart. And after that it might get sold for more downtown stores.

Buying that theater—destroyed in a terrible fire—and restoring its iconic neon sign is a high priority for this community. The plan is to create a community center, a gallery, a screening room and twin cinemas for indie films where the big 465-seat cinema was before.

If this deal appears to be in trouble as the final date approaches, I wonder if it could be possible to bring it over the top by the use of Community Preservation Fund (CPF) funds. This is the money accumulated by the 2% tax on real estate sales over $250,000 in the county. It is used to protect farmland, open space and groundwater from developers. It has, during its 20 years in existence, raised over $1 billion for this purpose. It’s a tremendous success.

There have been times, however, when the money has been used to protect open space without farming or groundwater protection. In East Hampton 12 years ago, $3.8 million of the money was used to buy a small 10-acre island of sand in the channel leading into Three Mile Harbor. No grass or foliage was on the island. Obviously nothing would grow on it. But, years ago, some people had built a small house upon it. It was then known as Dayton Island. And if invited, you could swim a hundred yards or row out to it. There was no dock. You just beached your boat. But you were on private property.

After the town bought it with CPF funds, they tore down the house. Now it was just open space, not fit for any farming. And there was no change in the lousy ground water. So, if you could use the funds for land and not farming or groundwater, why can’t it be used for farming but not groundwater or land?

The front entrance and lobby of the cinema are totally gone, and the main theater has smoke and water damage. I propose that in this interval, we bring plants and flowers into the main theater and call it a greenhouse. Save the theater greenhouse. Earmark $3 million for the theater greenhouse. And after the sale, keep a part of that theater building for the growing of plants and flowers to keep up the tradition (and show further compliance with the law). Surely there’s nothing illegal about showing films in your greenhouse.

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