Leases for two Schlumberger buildings head for public hearings, town meeting

A new Ridgefield-based theater group and a New Canaan design firm have worked out proposed $1-a-year leases with the town for two of the three remaining Schlumberger property buildings.

The Board of Selectmen approved the lease agreements last week and scheduled public hearings on Wednesday, Feb. 8, and a town meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 22, both at 7:30 p.m. in the town hall.

Both leases are for $1 a year but require the tenants to finance restoration of the buildings, which have been unoccupied for some years and are in need of extensive repairs. The lease on the auditorium is renewable out to 20 years, and the lease on the Philip Johnson building is renewable to 30 years.

“They’re long-term leases, both of them, because we’re asking the lessees to invest substantial funds into the renovation of both buildings,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

If approved by voters, the auditorium will be rented to ACT of Connecticut, a theater group started by Ridgefielders Katie and Bill Diamond, Daniel Levine and Bryan Perri. The group has extensive background on Broadway and in the theater world, and their plan is to refurbish the auditorium and offer “self-produced, limited-engagement runs, using Broadway and professional talent” with at least five main-stage shows a year. There would also be classes, workshops and staged readings of works still in development.

The Philip Johnson Building — an office structure known by the name of the modernist architect who designed it — would be leased to BassamFellows, a contemporary design and furniture firm headed by Scott Fellows and Craig Bassam, both of New Canaan.

“We’re a multi-disciplinary design company,” Fellows told The Press.

Their main business is “architectural and design services,” but they also design and market modern furniture and other high-end consumer goods.

“The building will be our office, our design studio and showroom of sorts,” Fellows said.

The staff is currently smaller, but within a few years he expects they’ll occupy the Philip Johnson Building’s 20 offices.

At Tuesday’s State of the Town address to the League of Women Voters, Marconi said the design firm was a great fit because they’re keenly aware of Philip Johnson’s legacy as an architect.

“They’re big Philip Johnson enthusiasts,” Marconi said. “We couldn’t have asked for anyone better.”