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Oct 25, 2011 4:13 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Parrish Extends Lease; Southampton Center of the Arts Plans Still Preliminary

Nov 2, 2011 10:31 AM

The Parrish Art Museum has extended its rent-free lease for the Jobs Lane museum for an additional year, to October 2013, the museum’s director, Terrie Sultan, said recently, but plans to vacate the building by next summer have been pushed back only to the end of 2012.

Ms. Sultan attributed the need for extra time to the massive scope of the $25 million construction project at the museum’s new site in Water Mill.

Meanwhile, plans for the Jobs Lane site, tentatively dubbed the Southampton Center of the Arts, are actively under way but remain largely preliminary. There are no set occupants yet, nor is there a programming lineup or clear-cut time line for renovating the building, Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said recently.

The Parrish’s lease, for which it pays no rent, originally set to expire on October 17, 2012, now expires on October 17, 2013, Mr. Epley said. The museum is now expected to vacate the Jobs Lane building by the end of 2012, he said, about six months later than the original target date of July 2012.

Mr. Epley said the village is taking a more conservative look at the village-owned Jobs Lane site.

At two public meetings this summer, consultants presented preliminary plans including possible layouts of the proposed arts center and re-configuration of the grounds, all of which would have increased the size of the 17,000-square-foot building.

But there are no longer any plans to expand the building’s footprint, Mr. Epley said. Community feedback calling for the village to be as conservative as possible with the building, as well as his own improved understanding of how arts facilities work under challenging fundraising conditions and other limited resources, led to the decision, he said.

The mayor said it has not been determined yet how the outdoor space will be used. A set of sketches presented in the summer called for various structures to be built on the grounds, such as an amphitheater, greenhouse and horticulture center.

The village is currently drafting a request for proposals for an architect who would be tasked with restoring the century-plus-old building. Mr. Epley said the village hopes to hire the architect by January. A board of directors for the center—which has not been formed yet, but is anticipated to comprise 12 people—will be responsible for working on an operational plan for the space, he said. He estimated the cost of restoration to be $6 million to $9 million.

The mayor told the public at the summer meetings that the goal was for project costs not to fall on village taxpayers. Last month, however, he acknowledged that he has the same concerns as those raised by village resident Orest Bliss as to the need for the process to be well thought out.

Mr. Bliss wrote a letter to the Village Board in September about the possibility of future costs landing on the taxpayer and non-village-taxpaying “guest trippers.”

Mr. Bliss called for a separate commercial tax district with taxing powers on commercial real estate properties to provide indemnities against future costs.

What exactly will be in the building is still uncertain, although the mayor said he is pleased with the progress, as are other village officials.

“I’d like to say to you that I have a deal worked out with company A, B, and C to occupy that building,” the mayor said. “But I don’t have that at this point.”

“No shortage” of arts institutions have shown interest in the site, but the devil is in the financial details, he said. The building costs approximately $1 million to $1.5 million annually to run, he said. That figure includes approximately $400,000 of debt service, as well as costs for maintenance of the building and 2-acre grounds, security, utilities, insurance and costs for employees, among other items.

The directors of Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre recently announced that the theater would seek a new home after the 2012 season because of high rent at its Long Wharf site, along with falling ticket sales and climbing production costs.

Bay Street has been one of several arts organizations in touch with the village about the Southampton Center of the Arts, as it has since word of the Parrish moving first percolated several years ago, Mr. Epley said. Many Sag Harbor residents would like to see it stay in Sag Harbor, though, he said. One of Bay Street’s founders, Steve Hamilton, serves on the Southampton Center of the Arts’s founders’ committee. The mayor said he brought him on because of his experience in launching arts institutions. Mr. Hamilton did not return an email seeking comment.

While not surprised that the Parrish is behind in some of its deadlines, Mr. Epley said he is excited about the additional transition time.

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