Written by Katherine M. Trager Friday, 05 November 2010 00:00
On Friday, Oct. 22, an excited crowd braved cold and windy weather to gather near the long-vacant movie theater on Post Avenue. Village, town and county officials, as well as the site owner and local residents, were present to celebrate the greatly anticipated start of the renovation and renewal of the theater.
The event also attracted the attention of the media. News and television crews jostled for position to photograph and film the building that will become, as stated in a Westbury Village press release, “one of Nassau County’s premier performing arts venues.”
“This is really the culmination of our downtown revitalization process,” said Village of Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro, as his voice rose above Post Avenue traffic and the sounds of construction work on the theater roof.
“This project is the keystone of what we have in mind for Post Avenue. We look at it as a magnet for new businesses, new consumers and new residents,” Cavallaro said. He also recognized the assistance of the county in providing essential community development funds before welcoming Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.
“This is a great example of how government can work together, the village and the county, to effectively use grant funds to improve our neighborhoods,” said Mangano.
Cyrus Hakakian, the owner and developer of the theater property, also spoke about the impact and importance of the theater project.
Hakakian called the theater a “beautiful piece of history that needs to be brought back to life,” and said the more time he spent at the theater “the more I realize how important this project is to the community as a whole.”
The mayor commended Hakakian for his patience in working with the village for the past six years that he has owned the property. It was an extensive and complicated process to obtain the necessary approvals for the site from the Village Zoning and Planning Boards as well as the Building Department and Board of Trustees. Progress was also slowed several times during the process because of a parking issue.
“We had to look at all the issues and protect our community,” said Cavallaro. “We were able to reach a creative solution with the developer regarding the parking needs that he has.”
The village press release described the solution, which will “permit the use of underutilized village municipal parking near the site during the theater’s expected hours of operation, under a lease between the developer and village.”
Cavallaro thanked the various village boards and officials, as well as community organizations such as the Westbury B.I.D. and Chamber of Commerce, for their efforts on the project. He also gave a special thanks to village residents for their patience and cooperation.
“The residents of the village have always been steadfast in wanting the theater to be developed, but they did give us the patience to work through the process and make sure the project worked not only for the developer, but also for the village,” Cavallaro said.
Resident Barbara Ann Cosenza echoed this opinion in an interview with WLNY TV 10/55.
“The residents have been watching this unfold for a long time,” said Cosenza, adding, “It was difficult to see the theater vacant for so long, but when it’s finished, it will really be a catalyst for our downtown and for our village.” A clip from her interview, as well as interviews with Cavallaro and Hakakian, aired on the channel’s “News at Eleven” program later that evening.
Before closing the ceremony and inviting the gathering for refreshments at Village Hall, Cavallaro also acknowledged former Village of Westbury Mayor Ernest Strada for the role he played in initiating the theater project and the downtown revitalization process as a whole.
“We’ve reached the day when Mr. Hakakian is going to unveil what we ultimately hope will be a magnificent addition to what we’ve done on Post Avenue,” said Strada.
Hakakian, Cavallaro and Mangano then lifted the cover on a canvas to reveal a colorfully sketched rendering of the theater, which is estimated to open in late 2011. Cameras flashed as the crowd clapped and cheered.
According to the village press release, the revived theater will resume showing films, but will also function as a live performing arts theater with its own restaurant, retail space and loft units. It has been discussed at prior public hearings that local schools may also use the theater for their drama productions.
Illustrations depicting the theater as a finished project can be viewed at Westbury Village Hall.