Monomoy Theatre Property Under Agreement; Buyer's Identity Unknown

By: Tim Wood

Artistic Director Alan Rust talks to students at the start of last year’s Monomoy Theatre season. ROWAN WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – The Monomoy Theatre is under agreement to be sold, the firm listing the Main Street property confirmed Wednesday. The identity of the buyer remains a mystery, however.

Slater Anderson of LandVest, a Boston real estate firm, said in an email that he could not disclose confidential terms of the agreement.

The buyer is apparently not affiliated with the theater. Mary Ann Harwood, chairwoman of Monomoy Theatre, Inc., said that while a group of theater supporters made an offer on the property, they do not have it under agreement.

According to the property's MLS listing, it is under agreement with contingencies, which usually means that there are stipulations that must be met, such as permit requirements, before the sale closes. The listing states that the closing will be in 60 days, which puts it at April 30.

The Steindler Family Trust, which owns the property at 776 Main St. and 70 Depot Rd., listed it for sale two weeks ago for $3.95 million. The amount of the agreement or the offer made by the group affiliated with the theater was not known as of early Wednesday.

Harwood said theater supporters were trying to find out more information about the situation. Community Development Director Kathleen Donovan said that to her knowledge, there have been no inquiries made to the department about the property.

Sale of the property to a developer would likely end its 80-year history as a theater. Theater supporters had said a 2019 season would likely not happen unless it could secure the property by March.

Last week the board of selectmen came out strongly behind a private effort to save the Monomoy Theatre. After meeting in executive session last Wednesday, the board took no action on town purchase of the properties but issued a statement in support of the property retaining its traditional use as a theater.

“We wanted to get it on record publicly that we think there should be a theater on that property,” said Chairman of Selectmen Dean Nicastro. “We think the Monomoy Theatre should survive.”

The trust decided to sell the theater property after the University of Hartford declined to renew a lease on the property, the result of town inspections last summer that found numerous health and safety violations, chiefly in the 11 bedrooms used to house theater students. Neither party could agree on who was responsible for repairs to address the violations.

Local supporters of the theater planned to form a limited liability company (LLC) to try to purchase the property and had reportedly enlisted at least four supporters to put up the money to buy the nearly three-acre parcel, which is assessed by the town at $1.9 million. A nonprofit was to have then launched a fundraising campaign and obtain local, state and federal grants to buy the theater from the LLC.

In the statement, selectmen said that they values the tradition of the theater as a "treasured part of Chatham's cultural and artistic heritage" and expressed "strong support for private efforts to acquire the property" in order to restore and preserve the theater.

The board "strongly" urged any buyer to "maintain the historic use of a theater on the property" and offered the "good offices" of the town "to help facilitate that goal."

The statement said that Town Manager Jill Goldsmith and town departments will work with a new owner to accelerate and facilitate the needed improvements to the theater so that it could open for the 2019 season.

Providing moral support and whatever assistance town departments can give is about the extent of the support the town can provide, Nicastro said. Building and health officials have indicated that while some improvements must be made in order to house students this summer, many of the upgrades that need to be made can be done over time as long as a plan is in place. If the town can facilitate that, “we stand ready to do it,” Nicastro said.

Originally a toy factory, the Monomoy Theatre has hosted stage productions since 1932. It became the summer theater program of Ohio University in 1958 after it was purchased by Elizabeth Baker, wife of then-president of the university John C. Baker. Ohio University ended its association with the theater in 2014, and the lease was assumed by the University of Hartford, which had been involved in the operation for several years. Longtime Monomoy Artistic Director Alan Rust directs the theater program at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford.

Often referred to as a theater boot camp, the Monomoy program hosts approximately 30 student actors and technicians who stage eight productions over a 10-week summer season. The students live, eat and work on the campus, which includes three residences – two of which are historic – the theater building and several other structures, including a scene shop and rehearsal space.