Suffolk Theatre owner hopes to open next year

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Downtown's shuttered Suffolk Theatre has not shown a movie since 1987

The owner of downtown’s long-shuttered Suffolk Theatre said construction on the 77-year-old building’s ticket booth and general offices has been progressing nicely since he won back control of the theater in the spring after a prolonged legal dispute with Riverhead Town.

And though he expects the winter to slow work at the building, which isn’t heated, he hopes to open for business in about a year, either the fall or winter of 2011, he told the News-Review Thursday.

“We’ve been working steady there in the offices to the left side of the main office and we’re a couple of days away from getting a [building] permit for the rest of the theater,” owner Bob Castaldi said. “If we can get heat we can continue working through the winter on that. Because it’s a small area, it’s manageable. But the rest of the building is just a big, giant, cold concrete box. It can take months to get some kind of heat in there.”

Mr. Castaldi purchased the art deco-style theater, built in 1933, from Riverhead Town in 2005 for $707,000, but the restoration stalled and he became involved in litigation with the town in 2007. That litigation was settled earlier this year, when newly elected Town Board members said they had no interest in re-acquiring the theater through a reverter clause in the contract. That clause allowed the town to retake ownership of the building if work wasn’t substantially completed within three years of the sale, which it was not.

Later this year it was announced that Mr. Castaldi would be receiving $250,000 from a $500,000 state Main Street revitalization grant to aid in his efforts.

Mr. Castaldi plans to reopen the theater as a performing arts center and single-screen theater that would also do cabaret-style performances, with tables replacing the seats. To allow for that, the theater’s sloped floor will be replaced with “terraced” seating.

“Rather than have that slope, it’s going to be flat for say 15 feet, then it drops a step. We’re going to put in radiant heat,” he explained while ticking off other points of the project. “We’re redoing all the bathrooms. We’re going from three commodes for the women and three for the men to about 13, 14, now, for each. The theater is going to function a lot better than the original did. We’re doing a full restoration of it. We’ve got to do fire upgrades and certain things to building code, but we’re going to try to keep the feeling and atmosphere and the look of what it was when it was originally built in 1933.
“But we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

The Suffolk Theatre hasn’t been used as a movie theater since 1987. The town acquired it in 1994 but was never able to reopen it.

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