Letter: ACT of CT benefits local businesses, and that's no 'myth'

To the Editor:

As artistic director (and founding member) of ACT of CT, I wanted to respond to Mr. Tyrrell's letter to the editor published on Feb. 7. I appreciate Ed’s support of our theater and his enthusiasm for our productions. We are working hard at becoming one of the premier regional theaters in the Northeast, and based on our audience response (along with our 11 Broadway World awards for our production of “Evita”), we are well on our way.

Mr. Tyrrell (in his letter) said:  “We are an arts destination. They are flocking to our beautiful downtown….Let’s look at that one.…….If this myth were true, our downtown would be bustling with zero vacancies.”.

I’d like to share some statistics regarding ACT. We’ve been open for just nine months and in less than one year 15,460 people have seen our productions. Only 50% of these people are from Ridgefield. In addition, we have employed 168 people.

Raffaele Gallo, owner of Gallo adds: "Since ACT has opened, Gallo Ristorante has benefitted from increased traffic of both regular and new clientele.  In addition, the early hours of dining (usually slower) have picked up noticeably. We are grateful to have ACT as a neighbor.”

Truitt Bell, owner of Bareburger states (and ACT board member): "At Bareburger, we have enjoyed a very nice increase in business from the traffic ACT of CT has brought to Ridgefield.  This exposure to Ridgefield will have a spill over effect to many local business, not just the restaurants.”

As it pertains to Mr.Tyrrell’s comment: "We do not get any economic benefit from the arts. However, we get costs. We spent a million dollars getting the area around the ACT Theater and neighboring Philip Johnson Building ready so that we could give each of them a long-term lease of a dollar a year.”

I’d like to remind readers that The Schlumberger property had sat vacant for years. A town committee was formed to decide what to do with these buildings and the site. It was decided that the best use for the property was to create a cultural center and to keep much of the land as open space. After a town vote, it was decided that ACT of CT would be granted the lease to the building. True, the town spent money to prepare the exterior of the property in order for us to create this theater (parking lot, lights, etc). But we (ACT) raised 2 million dollars to build this state of the art theater - and the town owns it, not us. I would say that the town of Ridgefield has greatly benefitted from our taking up residence here.

The future of any Main street is entertainment, hospitality, and services.  As more economic activities transfer online, if communities don’t provide an ‘experience’, then people just have no reason to spend their time and/or money in a downtown. I would argue that Rudy Marconi is someone who actually recognizes this and is trying to keep Ridgefield’s downtown relevant in a rapidly changing world.

Simply put, Ridgefield IS becoming an arts destination. It is not a myth. I was recently in Manhattan auditioning actors for our upcoming production of “Working”. Over 600 actors auditioned. When I asked many of them how they heard about ACT of CT, the response was, “Who hasn’t heard of ACT? Everyone is dying to go to Ridgefield!”.

Daniel C. Levine

Artistic Director