Past and Future at Sag Harbor’s 2017 Harborfest Celebration

Harborfest whaleboat races
Harborfest whaleboat races, Photo: Barbara Lassen

Harborfest, Sag Harbor’s annual village-wide event celebrating its maritime history this weekend, September 8–10, is, essentially, a large block party extending out over the water.

The Arts & Crafts Fair, held on the grass at Marine Park, and the Main Street Sidewalk Sale allow villagers and visitors alike to enjoy and celebrate over 300 years of Sag Harbor’s illustrious history: from its first days as a rough and tumble whaling port and the 1789 declaration by the Second Session of Congress naming Sag Harbor the first official port on entering the United States, to today, a time when you can leave your Porsche SUV unlocked and running while you sprint into a boutique to grab a $100 T-shirt.

The December 16, 2016 Sag Harbor fire
The December 16, 2016 Sag Harbor fire, Photo: Michael Heller

But as villagers know too well—and as many of the village’s tourists might discover—there’s something missing at this year’s Harborfest: That hole in the middle of Main Street was the Sag Harbor Cinema, gutted by fire nine months ago. The village is no stranger to wide-sweeping infernos. During an 1817 fire, according to Dorothy Zaykowski’s history of the village, Sag Harbor, “In three hours about 20 of the best houses and most valuable stores were leveled to the ground.” This fire led to the creation of the Otter Hose Company, the first volunteer fire company in New York State, and thus the oldest of the multiple volunteer fire departments that rushed to Sag Harbor’s Main Street in the early hours of December 16 to contain a blaze that very well could have engulfed the entirety of the business district.

The Cinema, in one iteration or another, has been a Main Street staple ever since George’s Theater opened there in October 1915. In 1936 the theater went through a complete makeover designed by famed theater architect John Eberson of New York. It was at this time that they added the Art Deco façade and iconic neon sign. Gerald Mallow purchased the theater in 1978, renaming it the Sag Harbor Cinema, ushering in a time when art house and foreign films reigned supreme in the village.

Today, the Sag Harbor Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the quality of life in Sag Harbor, has raised just under $6 million towards the purchase and reconstruction of what will become the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center (SHCAC).

Rendering of the redone Sag Harbor Cinema
Rendering of Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center. Photo: Sag Harbor Partnership

The Partnership recently announced the results of an economic impact study, developed by HR&A Advisors, a leading consulting firm providing services in real estate, economic development program design and implementation. Their report finds that, “The acquisition and redevelopment of the Sag Harbor Cinema will result in an impact far greater than its investment.” The report estimates that the SHCAC will create 45 construction jobs over a year and 73 year-round and seasonal jobs at the cinema and other local businesses. Construction spending alone adds another $7.34 million in total economic output.

Nick Gazzolo, SHP’s President, said, “This study supports the idea that the Cinema project is an economic engine for all of our locally owned businesses.”

But, lest we get lost in the cinema that isn’t, let’s not forget about the theater that is: Bay Street Theater. It’s there—right on Bay Street in the village—and has a great fall lineup including the NY Dog Film Festival, Loudon Wainwright III and, back by popular demand, The Sixties Show. And that’s just for the rest of this month.

See a complete calendar of Harborfest 2017 events here.