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Apr 30, 2019 1:38 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor Cinema Hopes For Fall Completion Date

April Gornik and Scott Tucker in front of the cinema.  DANA SHAW
May 7, 2019 11:07 AM

The iconic red neon “Sag Harbor” sign from the Sag Harbor Cinema could illuminate Main Street again as soon as this fall April Gornik, the head of the cinema’s executive board, said on Monday while wearing a hard hat and walking through the theater construction site.

The crew hit the ground running to renovate and rebuild the cinema in June 2018, and although having the job completed by the fall will be a challenge, Ms. Gornik said they’re determined to have it finished as soon as possible.

While walking through the site on a sunny morning on Monday, Ms. Gornik and Scott Tucker, the field superintendent in charge of the project, looked up at massive steel rods installed just last week for construction of the second and third floors.

On Monday, more than a dozen workers were inside the bare-bones cinema building, which is starting to take shape rapidly, as they installed drywall and air ducts in the ceilings.

“It is possible,” Mr. Tucker said about having the project finished this fall. “It’s a challenge on our end to get it finished, but we have an amazing team and amazing support.”

The cinema building was severely damaged in a fire 30 months ago. The Sag Harbor Partnership, itself a nonprofit, formed a new nonprofit called the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center to take charge of the Cinema, closed on the purchase of the property at 90 Main Street in January 2018 after spending the previous year raising $8 million needed to buy it from former owner Gerald Mallow, who wanted the cinema to go to someone who would preserve its historical identity.

Fundraising for $6 million needed to build the exterior structure of the cinema is complete, but an estimated $3 million to $4 million more will be needed to complete the interior.

When crews entered the building to assess the fire damage, they realized that the original block walls of the cinema had to be completely rebuilt for safety reasons. The original cinema did not have its own side walls but instead shared them with adjacent buildings. The construction crew had to build walls to make the building structurally sound and safe.

Now, the not-for-profit group will need to fundraise for the interior components, such as floor treatments, wall treatments, painting, acoustic drywall, sound systems, a bar, a concession stand, a little café near the entrance, computer supplies and office supplies, to name a few items. Projection and sound equipment alone will cost more than $880,000, Ms. Gornik said.

The cost is high to rebuild the cinema with the goal of having it look as it did before the fire. “The outside is almost an exact replication,” Ms. Gornik said, adding that they’re even re-creating details as small as the exit signs.

“We’re carefully going through every inch of it and trying to make sure that the feeling of the theater is intact,” she said. The new additions, such as the second-floor theater and office spaces, she added, will be “beautiful, but kept simple.”

“That means more expenses but also means a much better future for the cinema with a lot more flexibility,” Ms. Gornik said of the added square footage and high-tech projection and sound systems. The plan, she said, is acknowledge the “changing landscape of cinematography” and the evolving moviegoer by offering classes, virtual reality experiences, independent films, children’s films and classic movies.

“Were maximizing the building so that we can respond to these changes,” Ms. Gornik said, using the famous 1920s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, which Netflix purchased to preserve, as an example.

“Once people see it taking shape, that will help with fundraising,” she said. “If you skimp on it now, you’ll have to go back in and do it over. You have to do it right.”

The famous cinema sign has been restored and is being stored at Twin Forks Moving and Storage in Bridgehampton. “It wasn’t damaged too badly,” Mr. Tucker explained, adding that shortly after the fire a crew grabbed the sign with an excavator and set it down on the street to protect it.

Ms. Gornik said dozens of posters were salvaged from the fire, and that she hopes to incorporate those pieces of cinematic history into the new theater.

With approval from the Sag Harbor Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review and other boards, Ms. Gornik and the cinema board decided to create a third floor for offices and an outdoor terrace. Allen Kopelson of NK Architects was chosen to design the cinema arts center, which received site plan approval from the Planning Board in March 2018.

Now, the second level will house a small, state-of-the-art screening room fit for 40 seats. Ms. Gornik plans to use that room for private screenings, special events and whatever else the residents of Sag Harbor would like.

The first floor will have two movie screening rooms, one with 90 seats, and a larger theater, with 220 seats, for showing new releases, with the design of the screening rooms closely, if not identically, replicating the old cinema, along with a cafe near the front doors.

Mr. Tucker said the project for him is more than just another day at work. His wife attended Pierson High School, and her whole family lives in Sag Harbor. “When I found out that I was going to have the opportunity to do this project, I was very excited,” he said, adding that the cinema is a piece of Sag Harbor’s one-of-a-kind history.

“We’re feeling super-positive about the progress,” Ms. Gornik said while exiting the cinema and taking off her hard hat. “We have a great team.”

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