One year ago today, in the early morning hours, flames destroyed the long-closed American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford.
Town officials are still considering what to do with the 14-acre town-owned property. A new committee will hold its first meeting later this month to research the property and look for money for redevelopment.
Part of the almost $1.7 million the town received in an insurance payout was spent to clean up the after the fire. The remaining money is in the town’s general fund, though the mayor and town council have yet to decide how it will be used.
On a cloudy afternoon, Mary Dean, Stratford’s economic development director, approached a grassy field where the theater once overlooked Long Island Sound.
“The property almost looks smaller to me with the theater gone. This property is a beautiful stretch of land,” Dean said. “I mean, there is so much that can be done here.”
Comment sessions and a survey found support for an arts facility or open space.
Mary Newman, who lives across the street from the theater’s driveway, recalled the devastating fire.
“It was a horrible night. I’ll never forget the flames,” Newman said. “I am sickened by it, and I want something wonderful to happen. We need it for the town.”
Neighbor Barbara Seymour said the theater once gave the town grace and culture.
“I used to go there when I was a teenager,” Seymour said. “The actors were very nice. They used to live in a few of the houses here, and I got friendly with them.”
In the 1960s and 1970s the Shakespeare Theater drew school groups from around the state and visitors from throughout the Northeast. Both neighbors said they’d like to see a replacement with the same kind of scale.
Town officials have yet to decide whether they will seek to build something smaller, focusing on Stratford residents, or something larger that would draw significant numbers of visitors from outside of town.
Three teenagers were charged in connection with the fire. They soon could be offered plea deals.