Chester to buy performing arts center

Town agrees to borrow $3.5 million: Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center will continue its cultural mission, several other properties will be acquired for outdoor recreation

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  • At Wednesday night's board meeting, from left: Councilman Bob Valentine, actor Steve Cirbus, and Councilman Ryan Wensley (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

"I'm ready to put a soul back into this beauty."
Steve Cirbus

By Frances Ruth Harris

— The Chester town board unanimously agreed Wednesday night to secure a $3.5 million bond to buy the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center and several other properties in town.

Steve Cirbus, an actor who would be the center's artistic director, presented his vision of what the center would become under his management.

"I'm ready to put a soul back into this beauty," he told the board.

The audience of about 30 people applauded his presentation.

Councilmen Ryan Wensley and Bob Valentine were instrumental in getting the proposal together.

"It was evident that the only option to maintain and improve the cultural and artistic integrity of Sugar Loaf was to seek to purchase the PAC," Wensley wrote in an email. "I felt that we could not rely on any outside buyer to ensure this. Understanding that we would need an individual who had their finger on the pulse in the arts, I immediately thought of Steve Cirbus. He's a Chester resident, family man, and has an impressive acting pedigree in both film and television. Steve's connections in the entertainment industry and universities are so incredibly diverse and influential. It's going to be an exciting time bringing the performing arts back to our town."

In addition to the performing arts, the properties to be acquired — including the Laroe and Kocot properties — would be used for open space and recreation, with the possible installation of a town pool and running track.

'Minimal, if any, tax implications'The board agreed to enter into a purchase contract with the arts center's current owner, the nonprofit Mid-Hudson Civic Center.

"The purchase of the Lycian is $1 million," wrote Supervisor Alex Jamieson in an email, using the original name for the center, which was built in 1992 and purchased by Mid-Hudson in 2014. "The appraisal that was done has it valued at $1.8 million."

The bond for the center, plus the additional properties that would be used for outdoor recreation, will total $3.5 million.

In securing the bond, Wensley said the board wants to ensure all the properties will serve town residents "with minimal, if any, tax implications."

"Despite the negativity and uncertainty generated by a small minority of people," Wensley said, "we are doing everything we can to ensure our property purchases benefit the our town. A town pool, splash park, and running track are some of the many great ideas our residents have expressed interest in. We would like to apply these concepts to the properties we purchase."

Supervisor Alex Jamieson thanked Wensley and Valentine for pulling the contract together.

Economic boost predictedCirbus described the current condition of the center and its future under his management.

“There is a beautiful main stage proscenium theater, a flexible space, and two potential outdoor spaces surrounded by the stunning landscape that is Sugar Loaf," he said. "The theater has been in sporadic operation in recent years, having produced or facilitated occasional plays, concerts, spoken word events, artistic presentations, and community gatherings. Much like occasions in the past, this year has found the space mostly vacant, a shadow of what once was, and a reminder of what it could be.”

He said the center under his management would offer:

Classical plays, including Shakespeare, plus new plays, musicals, concerts, films, comedic acts, lectures, literary readings, and other artistic presentations

A podcast celebrating the performing arts and the development of young artists through talks with industry professionals

Educational programs on acting, directing, writing, history, and design, including adult education, distance learning, K-12, and higher education

Two art galleries

A website

Concessions, including a wine and beer lounge

A typical season would offer six resident and seven guest productions, and an international film festival featuring approximately 85 performances.

Cirbus said the revitalization effort would help the local economy by employing local electricians, carpenters, laborers, and artisans, while bringing new customers to local restaurants, shops, hotel, and bed and breakfasts. The town would see new revenue streams from tuition for educational programs, podcast sponsorships, and art sales, he said.

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