Outdoor stage plan for Schlumberger site gets ‘starter’ money

The vision of a outdoor stage — possibly an amphitheater — on the Schlumberger property is still alive. The selectmen have approved spending $25,000 to have plans drawn up that would put advocates of an “outdoor venue” in a good position to do the private fund raising for the much larger sum needed for development of the project.

“We believe this is the best use we can find for this property,” Dick Larson of the Schlumberger Citizens Committee told the selectmen April 4. “We believe it can be an economic driver for Ridgefield.”

Larson’s committee studied the Schlumberger property, surveyed citizens’ wishes about it, made several recommendations, and then disbanded.

Two of the committee’s main recommendations — long-term leases of the Philip Johnson building to the design firm BassamFellows, and of the Schlumberger auditorium to the theater group ACT of Connecticut — have being approved by voters and are on their way to being enacted.

But there’s been no action on the committee’s other principal recommendation, for development of a central portion of the site with an outdoor performance venue, while leaving much of the rest of the remaining 30 acres for trails and open space type uses.

Larson, backed by some members of his former committee, appeared before the selectmen to try to get the outdoor venue initiative off the ground.

Private donations would be sought to cover construction expenses that could run a few million. But fund raising of that scope needs some plans and pictures, and a project approved by town land use boards that can be pointed to as the desired end.

“We don’t have a site plan for an outdoor venue,” Larson said. “We don’t have a traffic study.”

The $25,000 is intended to take the project through zoning and other needed approvals, and provide the kind of specifics — including artwork — that would enable a serious fund-raising effort to succeed.

Among the many questions to be answered is how much money would be needed for the ambitious plan.

“It’s the start of that,” Larson said. “Once you have renderings of a stage and a site plan, you can get some guesstimates.”

‘Ripple effect’

The selectmen were supportive — especially since the town investment is expected to enable private financing to carry the main load.

“I can’t see how we can say no to a $25,000 investment to finish the job there,” said Selectman Bob Hebert.

“The ripple effect for the community, for $25,000, I think is staggering,” said Selectman Steve Zemo.

Once First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the needed money could be found in the town’s contingency account, the board unanimously approved the spending.

Arnold Light, chairman of the town Economic and Community Development Committee, was at the meeting — and he liked the concept.

“It will definitely be an economic driver,” he said. “It’s new people coming into town, and new revenue for the shops and businesses.”