New life flickers at two Island movie theaters

Businessman Mark Snider is in final negotiations to bring lights, cameras, and action back to Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven.

Mark Snider, right, and Richard Paradise posed in front of the Strand Theater in Oak Bluffs on Wednesday morning. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated at 3:20 pm on Wednesday, Feb. 18

Mark Snider, co-owner of Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Edgartown, has reached an agreement in principle on two long-term leases for the Strand Theater in Oak Bluffs and the Capawock Theater in Vineyard Haven. He intends to have the iconic Island movie houses renovated and operational by Memorial Day of this year.
Mr. Snider said he began informal talks with the Hall family, owners of the theaters, during the summer.

“Since I was a little kid, I have loved these movie theaters,” Mr. Snider told The Times. “I have always loved what they represent to the towns, and when they closed down I was really heartbroken about it. I just waited, hoping things would happen, and they didn’t. I was inspired by an editorial that ran in The Times about a year ago (June 11, “Forge a partnership”), and I decided to do something. I want to see these theaters alive and meaningful and part of the communities and filling the need that I think they do.”

“We’re very excited to have such a motivated, energetic individual with his experience in restoring projects to operational status,” Benjamin Hall Jr., co-owner of the Strand and Capawock theaters and attorney for Lucky 7 Realty Trust, which holds both of the buildings, told The Times. “It’s a huge thrill for our family.”

Although the deal was not official when Mr. Snider spoke to The Times on Wednesday, he said he was “extremely confident” the deal would be done.

Mr. Snider said both theaters will be outfitted with heating and air conditioning, and with state-of-the-art digital projection equipment. Seating will also be rearranged to provide more leg room for moviegoers.
Even though Memorial Day weekend is a scant 92 days away, Mr. Snider believes the theaters can be operational by then. “This is a problem in my life, I tend to have deadlines that are never reasonable,” he joked, adding that the Winnetu Oceanside Resort was built in only five months. “I am used to tight deadlines, and I feel if we have a will, there is a way,” he said.

Fundraising target
Mr. Snider said the biggest hurdle to clear is the financing. He estimates each theater will cost $500,000 to renovate and the money has to be raised in three weeks to accommodate the bidding process and contractor scheduling. “Getting the work done is the least of my concerns,” he said. “The most pressing need for us is to raise the money.”

As of Wednesday, Mr. Snider said he has raised $350,000. “The response has been amazing,” he said. “I know we can make this happen.”

At the request of the Halls, who fear losing any control over future use of the buildings should he solicit public funds, a clause in the agreement prohibits Mr. Snider from applying for Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. He is hopeful that private donations, large and small, will help fund the effort.

The new venture is named the Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation (MVTF). It will be a nonprofit foundation, with Mr. Snider its founding director.

“I have a few private donors lined up, but this has to be a community effort,” Mr. Snider said. “Even if you can only give one dollar, that will help. We want Islanders to feel like they own a piece of this.”

He said donations may be mailed to The Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation, ℅ Winnetu Oceanside Resort, 31 Dunes Road, 02539, or by calling 508-310-7837. Mr. Snider said he hopes to have a website online in near future that can accept donations.

MV Film Society involvement
The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society will oversee the day-to-day operations of the MVTF. “Mark is the inspiration for all this,” Martha’s Vineyard Film Society President Richard Paradise said. “He came to us in October of last year, and things have been quietly percolating ever since. There’s a lot to be done. We have to be logical and practical about things, but Mark is certainly a man who knows how to get things done.”

The Film Society owns and operates a modern, 177-seat movie house located in the Tisbury Marketplace. Mr. Paradise said the MVTF will not be membership-based. However, M.V. Film Society members will qualify for discounted tickets at the Strand and Capawock theaters. Mr. Paradise said he thinks the new venture will complement, not compete with, the M.V. Film Society, and likened it to the M.V. Film Society opening two new screens.

“The different venues will cater to a different demographic from the film society,” he said. “You have a lot of foot traffic by the Strand and the Capawock, and people are more spontaneous about going to the movies, whereas the film society is more of a destination venue.”

“We want this to be more than just movie theaters,” Mr. Snider said. “We want to have lecture series, live performances, and school shows. We want it to have diversity so we can reach new audiences.”
Mr. Snider said the MVTF will apply for a beer and wine license for the Strand theater. He hopes to keep both theaters open until Columbus Day, but Vineyarder response will determine how long they stay open.
“If all goes well, we’ll tackle the Island theater next year,” he said.

Revamp requirements
Of the two theaters, the Capawock will be the easiest to renovate, according to Brian Hall, co-owner of both theaters with his brother Ben. “The building is in good shape; all it needs is some cosmetic work and some paint. It shouldn’t take more than two weeks at most,” he told The Times.

Tisbury building inspector Kenneth Barwick said that the Capawock got a clean bill of health on its last annual structural-soundness checkup. “It’s great to hear it will be up and running again,” he said.

The Strand story had more plot twists. For starters, it wasn’t going to be available for seven years. Three years ago, Jason Leone, owner of King’s Rental on Circuit Avenue Extension, signed a 10-year lease on the theater, using it to store mopeds and bicycles. After a month of discussions with Mr. Snider and his family members, Mr. Leone agreed to sublet the theater. “The seats will be put back; it’ll look exactly the way it did when we moved in,” Mr. Leone told said, noting that he paid to paint the exterior of the building last year. “A big piece of the puzzle was finding a place to store the mopeds. Brian Packish helped make it happen, because he let me store everything on his property, free of charge.”

“Jason was up against the wall trying to find a place to put his stuff and move it in an economical way,” Mr. Packish said. “I offered him space on a property I own on Dukes County Avenue on a short-term basis, for free, if it helped to get this thing done,” he said. “Jason made a lot of concessions to make this happen.”

Although Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro told The Times he thought Mr. Snider would have to get a “change of use” permit, from “mercantile use” to “assembly,” Mr. Packish, chairman of the town planning board, disagreed. “There’s no record of any legal change of use before, and it’s still a theater,” he said. “The screen is still in place, and the seats are still there. Obviously we’ll put this through the proper channels, but I’m confident it will find all the support that it needs.”

Mr. Packish said the Strand revamp speaks to the mission of the downtown streetscape master plan committee, which works under the auspices of the planning board. “It shows if we continue to bring up the tide in our downtown, the theaters would eventually come along with us,” he said.

This story has been updated from its original version on Feb. 13 to include additional reporting.