Pictured Above: The marquee of the Greenport Theater. |. North Fork Arts Center photo
A new community organization, the North Fork Arts Center, is working to raise $1 million to turn the Greenport Theater into a non-profit community arts center, just as the historic theater on Front Street was put up for sale for $5.5 million earlier this January.
The group is spearheaded by Manhattan Film Institute founders Tony Spiridakis and Lisa Gillooly, who worked with the theater’s owner, Josh Sapan, to fix the theater’s heating system in the winter of 2018-2019 and launched a successful winter film series there, which was cut short the following year by the beginning of the pandemic.
Mr. Spiridakis said Mr. Sapan told him in December 2022 that he was planning to put the theater on the market, but said that if they could create a non-profit, choose a skillful new board and raise $1 million in reserve funds, he would turn the theater over to the new organization.
While Mr. Spiridakis was busy working as a producer and writer of the soon-to-be-released film “Inappropriate Behavior,” he knew when the real estate listing went live in mid-January that it was time to put the future of the theater on the front burner.
Within 10 days in late January, Mr. Spiridakis and Ms. Gillooly put together a team of eight future board members, including Mr. Sapan, received $250,000 in pledges, and have applied to the IRS to register a new non-profit, North Fork Arts Center, and have built a website, nofoartscenter.org.
Mr. Spiridakis said he believes the non-profit will have a tax ID number within the next few weeks so that it can begin to turn pledges into actual donations.
“What’s been amazing is how much really strong support there is on every inch of the North Fork, and the support just keeps coming,” he said. “It’s a great thing when you get pledges from $50 to $50,000 — we have over 100 pledges. Everybody’s going to be invested in something the community is putting together.”
The theater as it stands now was built by Prudential Theaters in 1939, designed by architect John Eberson, on the site of a theater built in 1915 that had been destroyed in the Hurricane of 1938. It currently has four screens and a total of 632 seats.
According to the real estate listing with John Catrambone of Dering Harbor Realty on Shelter Island, “The Greenport has just undergone an interior refresh after being closed as a result of Covid, and is fully ready for film exhibition and other events.”
Local residents who have volunteered to serve on the board include Academy Award winning director Chris Wedge of Orient, Emmy-winning writer William Finkelstein of New Suffolk, talent and literary agent Peter Benedek of Southold, MFI board member Liz Gillooly (who is also a Southold Town Trustee) of Greenport, Supply and Demand advertising company managing partner Charles Salice of Southold, artist and marketing coordinator Estefany Molina of Greenport and Josh Sapan, the current owner of the theater and recently retired President and CEO of AMC Networks, who lives on Shelter Island.
Mr. Spiridakis said Mr. Sapan hasn’t given the group a deadline for when they need to come up with the money, but his own dream would be to have the theater up and running by this summer season, launching with a community screening of “Cinema Paradiso.”
“We want this to be about the future — recreating, transforming and preserving the theater,” he said, adding that he loves seeing the way the Sag Harbor Cinema has been transformed since a non-profit rebuilt it after a 2016 fire.
“We can hit the ground running, curating all kinds of film series — first runs, documentaries and independent films. We did classic films there all winter,” said Mr. Spiridakis, who added that Mr. Sapan has invested in state-of-the-art projection equipment. “The board will put together a prospectus, but we’d like to add live music, live theater, film festivals, lecture series, an event stage and any other programming we feel is a way to bring the community together and have them energized.”
He added that he’s already received emails from local musicians who would like to organize a benefit concert, and from people involved in environmental issues, fine arts and music who would like to see programming there, and he has built a network of comedians through work on his new film who he’d love to highlight in the space. They’d also like to broaden the offerings to include training for film industry professionals, and filmmaking and animation camps for youth.
“I don’t think there’ll be a shortage of programming,” he said. “It’s going to be exceptional.”
“We feel we can get some programming and operate the theater at the break-even point at the get-go,” said Ms. Gillooly. “What Josh wants to know is that there is some substance to our reserves, in case there’s some unexpected thing where we need to close, like Covid, to provide for the future stability of the theater.”
More information can be found at nofoartscenter.org.