What’s Happening at Montauk Playhouse?

by Ashley Baker

Aquatics, theater, community programming—the Montauk Playhouse is undergoing a serious renovation and expansion, thanks to the work of
the Montauk Playhouse Community Center Foundation. Susan Henkin, its executive director, discusses what’s next for this historic building.

Tell us about the Playhouse’s history.
The Playhouse was built in the 1920s by Carl Fisher, and it was originally envisioned as an indoor tennis arena; later, it was also used as a boxing arena. Up until World War II, it was used for recreation. During World War II, it was converted into a storage facility and troop assembly hall for the navy. In the ’50s, it was turned into a theater, hosting live performances and movies for more than two decades. When the building fell into disrepair, the town of East Hampton considered tearing it down. A grassroots group of local residents was committed to saving the building. They got together to form the Playhouse Foundation in 1999. The Town of East Hampton committed $6 million to shore up the interior and exterior structures, and to finish half the space. In 2005–2006, the Town opened a gymnasium, a senior nutrition and day-care center. The building has a town clerk annex, an independent child-care center, as well as two for-profit businesses—a physical-therapy office and a BodyTech gym. The building has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

How did the renovations start?
When I came to the Foundation a year ago, they had already secured $2.5 million from 1,100 individual donors, which is currently safely invested. During the past year, I have been able to meet with year-round and second-home owners to gather information and ensure that our plan meets the varied needs of all residents. New commitments of $500,000 have been secured; we now have a total of $3 million in private donations. The Town of East Hampton recognizes the importance of this project, and has resolved to match the total funds raised—$3 million.

What was the next phase?
Over the course of the year, I have worked closely with our Town Supervisor, Larry Cantwell, and Deputy Supervisor, Peter Van Scoyoc, and several members of their team, to evaluate our business plan to assure that the community center, once up and running, will not be reliant on continued Town funding. The community center will be self-sustaining through program and rental revenues. This was a key factor in gaining our $3 million match.

What’s the total cost?
Our total budget is about $8 million.

So now you need $2 million more!
Yes, we need everyone who is part of the community to come together and support the project. I feel confident that with the renewed interest and municipal support, it’s going to happen. On August 5th, we’re hosting our annual Gala for the Playhouse, “Celebrating the Art of Surfing,” honoring Tony Caramanico, Evelyn O’Doherty, James Katsipis, and Peter Spacek. It’s always a great party, and it will help us bring awareness to the project and the progress we’re making.

What’s the completed Playhouse going to look like?
The expanded facility will be a vibrant gathering place for all of Montauk’s eclectic residents and visitors. The multi-use Cultural Arts Center will be home to live theater and musical performances, educational classes, movies, and events. The flexible facility will enable us to partner with local businesses and provide space for conferences and meetings, and numerous social gatherings for children, teens, adults, and seniors. I like to say that our ability to offer programming at the Playhouse is limited only by our imagination. We can be as creative as we want, and experiment with a lot of different kinds of programming, letting the community tell us what they’re interested in.

What does the Aquatic Center entail?
The Aquatic Center’s mission is to provide water safety and swimming competence, which will help ensure the health and safety of all of Montauk’s families. It will have a 25-yard lap pool and a 30-x-30 leisure and rehabilitation pool. Once completed, we will offer fitness programming, rehabilitation therapy, exercise classes, and swim instruction for all levels. Montauk is surrounded by water on three sides—
we want to make sure that everyone here knowshow to swim.

What is your timeline?
The Foundation is currently working with our architects and engineers to complete plans and go through the permitting process. It’s likely that construction will begin during 2018, and it should take between 12 and 15 months to complete.

You live in Amagansett year-round now. How are you liking life out here?
I feel really lucky. It’s a beautiful place and a wonderful community. This is one of the most special places in the world.

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