Andrew D. Kydes began as an usher at the Globe Theatre in the late 1960s, as soon as he was old enough to work.
He and his wife, Mary A. Kyriakides, bought the circa-1915 Norwalk icon four decades later in 2007 with hopes of restoring it to its former status as a community and cultural hub.
The theater at 71 Wall St. was prominently featured in the Wall Street Redevelopment Plan approved by the Norwalk City Council in 2004. At one point it was thought to be a central component in plans by POKO Partners L.L.C., of Port Chester, N.Y., to build a mixed-use retail and residential development in the surrounding neighborhood.
But due to a series of disagreements between the theater owners and POKO that were exacerbated by the economic crisis, a proposed sale of the theater to POKO fell through and it has gone largely untouched since while the remainder of the development has moved closer to the first phase of construction.
Now, however, the theater plans have been resuscitated by a former stage hand who has proposed to restore the Globe as a digitally equipped center for the performing arts.
“The plan is, not only are we going to renovate it within a historic context, but we’re going to outfit it with some of the most technologically advanced equipment on the market,” said Frank Farricker, president of Wall Street Theater Co. Inc., a nonprofit that is under contract to purchase the Globe from Kyriakides.
Once completed, the project would feature a 780-seat theater with 24 fixed-position cameras and digital technology capable of streaming video over the web.
“We’ve designed the theater to be probably the only digitally streaming theater that’s in this whole area, outside of New York City,” Farricker said. He said clients could range from major production outfits to corporations looking to stream an event to a community theater ensemble.
“We’ve designed it to have very significantly discounted rates for community groups,” Farricker said. “A musician’s grandmother, for example, could watch them play the cello from Florida. … We’re very, very excited about the depth of offerings.”
Asked last week at a public open house whether he thought the theater could be restored to the luster of its past, Kydes said Farricker’s group would take the Globe “beyond that.”
“Frank is the right person to initiate the rehabilitation and redevelopment of this building,” said Kydes, who will have no involvement with Wall Street Theater Co. following the sale. “And the area needs a lift, something to get it going, because it’s been blighted for so long. And I think there’s a tremendous need for culture here.”
Project hinges on federal loan guarantee
On the surface, the project appears to be daunting.
The Globe, which was originally a vaudeville theater and which has since had a range of uses – from a movie theater to a nightclub, has gone unused for a decade. The theater has been stripped of all its seats and is in need of significant interior repairs, electrical upgrades, a new HVAC system and environmental remediation actions, such as the removal of asbestos.
Farricker estimates the project will cost $7.5 million.
Because the theater is central to the Wall Street Redevelopment Plan, Wall Street Theater Co. is seeking a $2 million low-interest federal loan, known as a Section 108 loan guarantee, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help finance the project.
The remainder of the project would be financed through a series of tax credits and private equity, Farricker said.
The federal loan, if approved, would be secured through the Community Development Block Grant program that is administered by HUD.
Because the loan would be guaranteed by the city’s CDBG allocation, the city must submit the financing application on Wall Street Theater Co.’s behalf, said Timothy Sheehan, executive director of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.
The redevelopment agency, which is CDBG administrator for the city, has drafted a Section 108 application for HUD financing that must first be approved by the Norwalk City Council before it can be submitted for federal approval.
Sheehan said members the city’s Planning Commission have requested that Wall Street Theater Co. conduct a market study to ensure the financial viability of the project before approving the Section 108 application, but emphasized that the theater’s redevelopment is a priority.
“The Globe Theatre has always been an integral part of the Wall Street Redevelopment Plan,” Sheehan said. “To have regular programming at that theater that could attract (hundreds) of people certainly would be a huge regional attraction to Wall Street.”
MaryGrace Weber, special projects manager for the redevelopment agency, added, “Leaving that theater as it is right now is not an option. … Having that as an asset in that area of town will be a very good thing.”
Farricker, for his part, said Wall Street Theater Co. plans to conduct a full market study, but said the business plan is financially sound.
“We think we’ll be the best-capitalized theater in the state,” Farricker said. We have great intentions on what we want to do artistically and for the community, but the one thing we want to do above all is make sure we’re open well past my time.”
A public hearing on the draft Section 108 application is scheduled for May 29.
Reconciliation with POKO
Despite the past disagreements between the theater owners and POKO, representatives of both parties say that is all in the past.
“The plan, as I understand it, is for (Wall Street Theater Co.) to turn the theater back on and use it as an entertainment center, and we love that,” said Kenneth Olson, founder and CEO of POKO. “We think it’s a great idea. We think the cool thing about Norwalk … is it has an arts culture, it has a civic culture. What it lacks in the Wall Street area is commerce.”
Olson said POKO hopes to start construction toward the end of the summer or early fall on the first phase of its mixed-use development in the adjacent neighborhood.
In all, the project calls for 400 apartments, 70,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and “a bizarre” amount of parking, Olson said.
The first phase of the project will include 101 apartment units – 65 that will be market rate and 36 that will be designated as affordable housing, 16,000 square feet of retail space and a 220-space parking garage.
“We’re going to complement and assist, if you will, the Wall Street neighborhood and that’ll drive business at the Globe Theatre as well as commerce in the entire area,” Olson said.
Said Farricker, “We’re very confident that we’ll be part of a great change over there.”