Stratford Stage Group will have its opportunity to develop a plan to reopen and reuse the Shakespeare Theatre after a recent Stratford Town Council vote.
Town councilors voted 6-4 at last Thursday's special meeting to allow Stratford Stage Group to begin negotiations on a theater redevelopment plan, choosing the group over another organization that has ties to Milford.
The Stratford Stage Group, headed by David Reed, introduced plans to renovate the theater to its 1,500-seat capacity. The plan also calls for the construction of a 132-room hotel to the property. Once built, the theater would be a nonprofit, multi-purpose cultural facility with national classical theater as a central activity in concert with educational drama institutions.
Reed was “pleased and proud” with the vote.
“The citizenry that is informed and takes the trouble to be informed made the right choice,” Reed said. “It should have been obvious to everyone that if they really examined the proposals carefully that our proposal had far more to give and will have far more to give for the benefit of the town.”
Prior to the vote, Council Chairman Joe Kubic said while he loves the theater, it is “not viable” as it is, adding that the Shakespeare site should be a destination location. The Stratford Stage Group, Kubic said, “is likely the best option at this point.”
Council members Matt Catalano, Stephanie Philips, Ken Poisson and Paul Hoydick voted no on the Stratford Stage plan.
Stratford Stage Group's plan was chosen over the proposal from Elm Street Theater Co.
In October, the special theater proposal review committee of the Stratford town council recommended that Elm Street Theater Co., a group of companies and individuals with a range of theater development experience, be approved as developer and operator of Stratford's Shakespeare Theatre.
The conglomeration includes principals from Lockwood and Mead, a Greenwich real estate development company, and Suzanne Cahill, chairman of Wall Street Theater Co. of Norwalk and Milford and a media and entertainment entrepreneur.
Cahill is the owner of RedMat Media in Milford, which publishes Milford Living magazine, and she serves on Milford's economic development commission.
Last week the council rejected starting talks with Elm Street with a 7-3 vote. Catalano, Philips and Hoydick voted in support of Elm Street.The audience let out gasps after Fifth District Councilman Brian Dempsey said “no” after Kubic asked him a second time what his vote was.
While there was no public comment, several people booed after all the votes were cast and the Elm Street motion failed. Elm Street Theater Co., a self-described not-for-profit corporation created to redevelop, renovate, maintain and operate the Shakespeare Theater, planned to generate cash from the sale of tax credits that it expected to obtain from the state and federal government. Tax credits are presumed to be available for rehabilitating buildings that are historic, environmentally 'green' or that help develop tourism and the digital arts in Connecticut.  STARS, an artistic collaborative, announced recently that it intended to work with the Elm Street group.
Two people held pro-Elm Street Theater signs at the meeting. One person held a sign saying “No Hotel,” clearly opposing the Stratford Stage Group plan.
Reed said he expected to start negotiations with Town Attorney Tim Bishop this  week. The contract will still have to approve any contract before anything at the theater begins.
Cahill had no comment.