Mayor turns down request to take over city auditorium
The Milford Performance Center is coming up on its third year, and its founder, local photographer Steve Cooper, this week asked the city for more control of the large auditorium where he holds shows so he can turn it into a venue like the Ridgefield Playhouse.
For now, the answer is no.
Mayor Ben Blake said there are many groups that use the Veterans Memorial Auditorium at the Parsons Government Center — from dance schools holding recitals to local public schools and other organizations holding graduation ceremonies there.
“It’s a city asset for a whole community and it can’t be turned over to one person,” the mayor said.
Cooper attended this week’s Board of Aldermen’s meeting to make his plea. He said giving him more control of the venue would allow him to book more shows and apply for grants to upgrade the auditorium.
“We are now doing about 24 shows and increasing each year,” Cooper told the aldermen Monday night. “Both tribute and big name acts.”
Every show serves as a fundraiser for an area nonprofit, he said.
The big show this year is Arlo Guthrie, scheduled for Nov. 22.
Cooper formed the nonprofit Milford Performance Center to bring big-name musical groups and other events and performances to the auditorium. Once the Milford High School auditorium — before the high school closed and was turned into the government center in the 1980s — the large theater seats 970.
Cooper believed the stage in the heart of downtown Milford was underused and could be a lot more for the city, and that’s why he created the Milford Performance Center, which books shows and rents the auditorium to hold them.
Now he wants to take the project to the next level. The Public Works Department is responsible for booking the auditorium, and Cooper wants to take on that role. He wants to be able to keep his sound and other equipment there full time so he doesn’t have to set it up and take it down between shows, and he would like full-time use of a room for storage and ticket sales.
He would like an arrangement like the Ridgefield Playhouse has.
He brought with him to the aldermen’s meeting a copy of a lease agreement between the Town of Ridgefield and the Ridgefield Playhouse, a nonprofit performing arts center located in a former high school in Ridgefield.
The current agreement outlines a 20-year lease through 2027 for $1 a year for the auditorium and basement space located in the Richard E. Venus Municipal Building, and calls for the Ridgefield Playhouse to provide “a regular program of events,” including “professional and amateur plays, recitals, musical productions, readings, concerts, films, after-school programs and other such endeavors ... ”
“I would like to try to make this something permanent that will last far past my tenure and something for future generations of Milfordites to enjoy and also reap the financial benefits of,” Cooper said.
This year he expects the Milford Performance Center will draw about 7,000 patrons, with shows like the John Fogerty Tribute Project, Sugar Mountain performing the music of Neil Young, and more, and Cooper said that means thousands of dollars will be spent at area restaurants, shops and other businesses.
The mayor said this week that Cooper’s shows are good for downtown, “but at the same time there are a lot of stakeholders.”
Cooper can continue to rent the venue for Milford Performance Center events like the other stakeholders who use it, Blake said.
So for now, Cooper will continue to run the center as he has been, and said he will work to book more and more shows each year.