Big plans in the works for Milford auditorium
MILFORD >> The Veterans Memorial Auditorium in the city’s Parsons Government Center is being groomed as a venue for Broadway traveling shows and world-class music and comedy acts, while boosting local business along the way.
The first show is in two days.
The Milford Performance Center will be led by photographer Steve Cooper, as executive director, who has a background in entertainment, and connections in the business.
“There are so many positives about this space,” Cooper said. “I want to bring it to a level it’s never been before.”
Cooper said he proposed the idea to Mayor Benjamin G. Blake and learned Blake had already been thinking about putting the space to better use.
Cooper entered into an agreement with the city to run the center.
“The Veterans Memorial Auditorium is a fantastic venue in the heart of downtown Milford with easy parking and access from the train,” Blake said.
“More theater, music and art events scheduled for our city’s center will only add to our already vibrant downtown and help our local shops and restaurants continue to thrive,” Blake said.
Cooper lives in Bethany where he has his studio, but spends most of his time in Milford.
While in college, he began as a music major, theater minor, but after freshman year changed his mind and got bachelor’s degrees in art education and photography, Cooper said.
He became a professional photographer, but stayed close to the entertainment industry through photo shoots for portfolios and album and CD covers.
Cooper said there has always been a pull to music and theater, and he’s maintained so many connections that he already has promoters calling him to book acts.
The inaugural show Jan. 14 will feature jazz musician Jay Rowe, a Milford resident, with Steely Dan cover band Beau Bolero opening. Rowe is also on the organization’s board of directors. Tickets are $25-$40.
The second show, Feb. 19, will star Sha Na Na, which played at Woodstock in 1969 and performs classic 1950s music. Local band Flashback will open.
On March 16, local Celtic musicians The John Whelan Band will perform.
Cooper said the goal is to do 20 shows in 2017 and up to 40 the next year.
The auditorium at the Parsons Government Center, 70 W. River St., seats 970 and has an orchestra pit, Cooper said. It also has an entrance separate from the Parsons Center, a converted high school.
The goal is to upgrade the auditorium with next-generation sound and lighting equipment — items now being rented — and use the space for music, comedy and lectures the first year.
In the following two years, the hope is to get a federal grant for stage restoration and bring in Broadway-level acts from New York and create a “cultural center.”
“It has so many possibilities,” he said. “The Veterans Memorial Auditorium is drastically and dramatically underused.”
The auditorium is being spruced up to include a concession area. A liquor license is in the works.
The Milford Performance Center is a nonprofit project of Cooper’s Charitable Hands Foundation, which helps organizations that help others. Part of the plan will include donating to causes, but those details haven’t been worked out.
Cooper said Milford has many strengths in its historic Green, miles of shoreline and mall.
He said the auditorium is “uniquely situated” with free parking, and near some of the best restaurants in the area, Route 15 and Interstate 95, and the train station.
He predicts the audience draw will be from a 25-mile radius to include New Haven and Fairfield counties.
The former Milford High School was completed for the class of 1951 graduation. It closed in 1983, and underwent major renovation. In 2016, the auditorium entryway was revamped and the “green room” renovated.