From: Oxford, OH
Registered: May 2003
posted June 29, 2004 08:14 PM
From the Hartford Courant (25 June 2004):
Officials Expect Boost From Theater
Middletown Expects Economic Boost
June 25, 2004
By JOSH KOVNER, Courant Staff Writer
MIDDLETOWN -- The arrival of Goodspeed Musicals' main stage, production center and actors' housing will place Middletown among a select group of small northeastern cities that are driven by the arts, the city planner predicted Thursday.
"I see this as leading us to become a Portsmouth, N.H., a Burlington, Vt., or a Northampton, Mass.," said William Warner, as joyous city officials formally announced Goodspeed's decision to locate its new theater and support services downtown.
Wesleyan University President Douglas Bennet said the move would infuse Goodspeed with a new audience and expose Wesleyan students and city children to world-class actors.
"A lot of people who come to Wesleyan will discover Goodspeed, and a lot of people who come to Goodspeed will discover Wesleyan," Bennet said. "This makes Middletown more of a destination for people who are wondering what college to go to."
Michael Price, executive director of Goodpseed, which has sent 16 shows to Broadway, including "Annie," said at the gathering, "The sun came out tomorrow - and it was on Middletown."
Price added that city's plans for Goodspeed's expansion were "a dream come true."
If the millions in city, state, and private funding needed for the project are secured, Middletown's Goodspeed expansion could draw well over 100,000 people a year and generate as much as $9 million in additional downtown spending annually, city officials estimated.
"In East Haddam, each theatergoer spent $44 in the village," Warner said. "With our resturants and other art and entertainment venues, I would expect that figure to rise to $50 or $52 a person."
Mayor Domenique Thornton estimated that the Broadway-style theater, production center with Goodspeed's library, offices and production shops would raise the value of property in the eight blocks surrounding the development by as much as $22 million.
To cinch the deal with Goodspeed's board, city officials said they would increase the city's financial participation from $6.5 million to $10 million, two Middletown sources said.
The rest of the funding for the theater building on Main Street would come from state grants and bonds. The $10 million to $15 million for the production center, on deKoven Drive next to city hall, would be raised by Goodspeed.
The Middletown Housing Authority, chaired by Mark Masselli, a leader of the team that courted Goodspeed, is planning to develop actor housing on the site of Main Street's Spear Park, which the authority owns.
Joining Masselli on the team organized by Thornton were Warner, the Democrat and Republican leaders of the council, Gerald Daley and Stephen Gionfriddo, and Bennet and his wife, Midge. She commented Thursday that the best thing about Goodspeed's arrival is that "it will be great fun."
Lawrence McHugh, president of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce and vice chairman of the Goodspeed's board of directors, was credited with being a strong behind-the-scenes presence as he straddled both roles. McHugh said the move will benefit Middletown, the region and Goodspeed.
"We made a proposal that the Goodspeed couldn't refuse," Thornton said, adding that city would get back what it puts into the project through an increase in property tax revenue. But the mayor said she was not ready to say exactly how much the city's participation would be.
"I can't confirm or deny" the $10 million figure, the mayor said. "First we have to determine the extent of the state's commitment. Then we will discuss, perhaps with bond counsel, a prudent financial strategy for the city."
Former Mayor Thomas Serra was among the 70 or so people who gathered on the open site next to city hall - the future home of Goodspeed's production center - to listen to the news briefing.
"This is a boon for Middletown, no question," Serra said, "but it's crucial that city leaders, in straightforward language, explain to the citizens exactly what the city's participation will be and what the benefits will be."
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