Valley Independent Sentinel | Committee To Guide Ansonia On Opera… – Valley Independent Sentinel


by | Sep 6, 2022 8:28 pm
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This interior shot of the opera house was shared on the Ansonia Opera House Facebook page in December 2021. Facebook.com/AnsoniaOperaHouse has been a key player in letting the public see inside the venue.
ANSONIA — A new committee met Tuesday night to brainstorm ideas about how to bring the Ansonia Opera House back to life.

The 131-year-old opera house hasn’t been used since around 1971 or so — and it hasn’t been used as a pure entertainment venue for decades prior to that, according to city officials.

The committee, which was formed by Mayor David Cassetti and the Board of Aldermen in May, is tasked with making recommendations to the Aldermen on the restoration and preservation of the opera house.
The Ansonia Opera House is privately owned by Walt Kendzierski and his family. However, he has teamed with the Cassetti administration in an effort to secure grant money to get the building back into use. Kendzierski and Cassetti signed a lease agreement in March formalizing the partnership.

The lease agreement specifically calls for the opera house to be used as a public or private venue for entertainment, educational or community functions.

John Marini, the city’s corporation counsel, told The Valley Indy in March that Kendzierski and his family are committed to seeing the opera house be used in a manner in line with its tradition. But it’s a tough property for the private sector to develop, because it’s an old building that needs to be checked out for things such as environmental contamination. A local government has an easier time accessing grant money to pay for things such as environmental tests.

Marini said the opera house could have been sold off for apartments, but Kendzierski has resisted. The Cassetti administration shares Kendzierski’s vision, Marini said.

Sheila O’Malley, Ansonia’s grant writer and economic development director, told the committee on Tuesday she has been talking to the State Historic Preservation Office in an effort to talk about what’s needed to apply for grant money. At some point an architect will be needed to start assessing the structure, O’Malley said. She said the committee may want to explore creating a nonprofit group to help in the renovation project.

Tuesday was the first time the new opera house committee met. The members appointed Anthony Mullin, a volunteer firefighter and photographer, as the committee chairman.

The committee talked about ways to raise money for the opera house restoration. While the opera house hasn’t been open to the public in years, Mullin and his fellow photographers have been posting images to social media. The posts, which touch upon the public’s natural curiosity with abandoned” places, are popular on local Facebook and have given the public a rare glimpse inside the old opera house.

Mullin suggested Ansonia Opera House photography tours as a way to raise money. It would involve small groups of photographers going in and taking photos for a fee.

Kathleen Fisher, the committee’s vice-chairwoman, suggested theater-related lectures, where a theater person could talk to the public at an event to raise awareness about the opera house.

Kendzierski noted that although the opera house is in the heart of downtown Ansonia, it’s easy to miss. He recommended handing a large banner on the building with some type of call to action.

I bet you nine out of 10 people don’t know Ansonia has an opera house,” he said.

The new committee will meet once a month: the fourth Thursday of every month at 7 p.m.

This is a great opportunity to move Ansonia forward,” Mayor Cassetti told the members of the new committee.

The lease agreement signed by Cassetti and Kendzierski earlier this year called for the creation of a committee to help with the restoration.

Breathing new life into an old performing venue is not easy. Derby snagged grant money to restore the exterior of the Sterling Opera House on Elizabeth Street, but there’s been no movement to restore the interior of the building.

Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration in Bridgeport is hoping for $100,000 million in state grants to bring its old Palace Theater back to life.

But the Cassetti administration has overseen a transformation of Main Street, with new restaurants, apartments, and a new police station built within an existing building. A new senior center is under construction as well.
City officials hope the progress on Main Street will help the city get grant money to make the Ansonia Opera House viable again.

The lease Mayor Cassetti signed in March is valid for 30 years. Ansonia pays $1 per month. In addition to an annual $3,000 tax credit for the life of the lease, the property’s assessment is frozen. The city’s assessor’s online database lists the assessment at $292,300.

The lease agreement calls for the city’s government to first search for grant money — whether it be from state or federal sources — to replace the windows in the building on the Main Street side of the building, and to secure grant money to investigate the environmental and structural conditions of the opera house. The lease refers to these two efforts as phase one,” and gives the city two years to achieve the stated goals.

The search for grant money continues in phase two,” according to the lease. The city will also create a master plan for the restoration of the opera house in this phase, which does not have a stated deadline, and to continue to make repairs.

Ansonia is responsible for finding the money needed to restore and make repairs to the opera house, along with paying for maintenance costs and routine items such as electricity.

The mayor and the Board of Aldermen appointed 11 people to the committee in May. They are scheduled to serve a two-year term.

The members, according to a roster on file with the Town Clerk’s Office, are:

Joshua Shuart (president of the Board of Aldermen)
Joseph Jeanette (Alderman)
Joseph Cassetti (Alderman)
Gary Farrar Jr. (Ansonia resident)
Walt Kendzierski (property owner)
Anthony Mullin (Derby resident)
Patrick Buckley (Shelton resident)
Kathleen Kiley Fisher (Glastonbury resident)
Joey Febus (Shelton resident)
Jennifer Rose (Branford resident)
Katie Hoye (West Haven resident)

Seven of the members are registered Republicans, one is a registered Democrat, and three are unaffiliated, according to information in a May 9 letter from the mayor to the Board of Aldermen.

Marini said the committee includes people who don’t live in Ansonia because they’ve already been involved in efforts to publicize the opera house and wanted to help.
The Ansonia Opera House is next to Uptown Bar & Eatery (formerly Crave). There’s a lobby and stairs on the first floor, with the opera house itself on floors two and three.
A screen shot from Tuesday’s meeting of the Ansonia Opera House Committee. It was the first time the committee met.
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