FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Keith Rhodes would like to take his two small children to a Saturday afternoon matinee in downtown Fairfield. There’s a perfect venue available, but Rhodes feels the town is being held “hostage” by the owner of the Fairfield Community Theater.
And he’s determined to do something about it.
Rhodes, who has lived in Fairfield for 11 years, started a petition on Change.org last week. In less than 48 hours, more than 3,000 people signed the petition with hopes of forcing the current owners, David Pollack and his family, to sell the property as soon as possible.
The building, which opened in the 1920s, has been vacant since 2011 and has fallen into disrepair. Once a vibrant community hub, the landmark theater has become an eyesore. Pollack has not publicly commented on his plans for the theater and has rejected several attempts to purchase the property.
That sticks in the craw of Rhodes, a member of the Fairfield Economic Development Commission who is frustrated that such a community treasure has been allowed to become a blight. The possibilities are endless, he said.
“When I think about the town of Fairfield and its brand identity, I think about it as the gateway to New England,’’ said Rhodes, the Vice President of Brand Strategy and Integrated Communications at Quinnipiac University.
“And at the heart of every great New England community has culture and community centered on a theater. When I look at this building, and the life of my 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, they’ve never been able to walk into the theater and see its grandeur. It pains me to see it and to think about this.”
Rhodes believes a new owner could help the neighboring business community and Sacred Heart University and Fairfield University attract students to their campus. “It represents everything that’s right about Fairfield, and everything that’s wrong, at the same time,’’ Rhodes said. “There’s this great community theater sitting in the center of town, and it’s in complete disrepair, and for what reason?”
The building has seating for more than 700 people and nearly 8,000 square feet. It began showing movies in 1929. The theater was run by Loews Cineplex from 1979 to 2001, when local developer Leo Redgate leased the theater and ran it as a nonprofit that featured second-run and specialty films, according to a story in The Fairfield Citizen.
It has remained vacant since September 2011, and Pollack seems to be in no rush to part with it.
“I’d like to see them sell the theater,’’ Rhodes said. “There are many interested parties. Fairfield has a bookstore right in the center of town. Why not have a beautiful center for the performing arts? It’s an amazing opportunity that could bring students together. There’s the potential for great economic impact, not just for Fairfield residents, but for Westport, Bridgeport and the whole region. It’s an embarrassment and the demands of the Pollacks don’t make any sense.”
Rhodes felt the Change.org petition was the last resort to compel the Pollack family to sell the property. First Selectman Michael Tetreau has tried to work out deals, potential buyers have expressed interest and the community is eager to have the theater back as an integral part of the downtown. Yet the theater sits vacant.
“I'm signing because this is a historic site in Fairfield and it would be wonderful to have it become a functioning part of the community again,’’ Barbara Montague wrote on the petition. “It would be perfect for concerts and other types of performances. That would enhance the appeal of our town tremendously.”
Rhodes is optimistic that the petition could be the catalyst for a sale. “You can see the sentiment on the petition,’’ he said. “This is more than a theater. It’s a century-old landmark. There are no citizens in Fairfield over 100 years old. This, in essence, is Fairfield’s oldest citizen. It’s our heritage, our future and our children’s future, and the Pollacks are holding it hostage from the community.”
Click here to sign the petition.