WATERTOWN — The Country Cinema, a centerpiece of the town’s Main Street, has been sold to developers J-R Laliberte and Luciene Laliberte.
Their first act as the new owners has been changing the name of the Country Cinema to Watertown Stage, a name which encapsulates the new role the building will have in the local community.
A press conference was hosted on Tuesday, October 29 to announce the sale of the theater and outline the future of the building.
The Country Cinema, while still a popular spot in town, had seen better days. The balcony has been closed, the seats worn from years of use and other signs of wear give away the theater’s age.
“The balcony will be brought back to life,” said Mr. Laliberte during the press conference, highlighting other major renovations the building will receive.
Other updates will include expanding the entry lobby, replacing the worn seating and updating the restrooms.
The stage will receive an update allowing to both serve as a movie screen and a stage, as well as the acoustics and lighting.
Mr. and Mrs. Laliberte’s vision for the theater is larger than just updating the physical building. The two want to create a cultural and artistic destination in town.
They plan to host not only movies, but theater productions, comedy shows and speaking events.
They also plan to get a liquor license so cocktail events before certain movie premiers or events may take place.
Businesses and organizations will have the opportunity to rent the space for speaking events or seminars.
Melina’s Nail Salon, which is in the same building as the theater, will be moving to Depot Square Mall, allowing for Watertown Stage to have an extended lobby to accommodate new ideas.
Residents can be assured that the theater will still be a prime destination for a weekend movie night. Tickets will remain less expensive, when compared to larger theaters in Waterbury and other surrounding towns.
Planning and Zoning Chair Richard Antonetti took a moment to speak at the press conference and explain the future of Main Street.
“There are going to be a lot of changes,” he stated.
He spoke about a new bill recently signed into law in Hartford which will assist Watertown Stage in its early days.
Nicknamed the Renaissance Bill, the law would give the Town Council the option to give a tax break to art and cultural businesses in town.
Watertown Stage, serving as a place for the performing arts, will be eligible to receive a tax break from the town.
State Sen. Eric Berthel, R-32, and state Rep. Joe Polletta, R-68, pushed for the bill during the state’s legislative session in the spring, and it was signed by Governor Ned Lamont.
The two politicians were invited to the press conference to support the purchase and advertise that the new Renaissance Bill is available for towns.
“I can’t think of a better person to carry on this tradition,” said Mr. Polletta about Mr. Laliberte’s purchase of the theater.
Those in town government hope that the renovations to the theater will allow for future development in the town’s Main Street.
Mr. Antonetti hopes to see the effects of the Renaissance Bill spur growth along Main Street all the way to the Phoenix Stage Company in Oakville.
He wishes to see both theaters grow and develop under the new law and for them to be used as attractions to bring more business to town.
Watertown Stage will be closed all winter as the building receives its much-needed renovations.
Mr. and Mrs. Laliberte hope to have the renovations completed by early spring and open the theater on Wednesday, April 1.
“There is potential here,” said Mr. Laliberte, who is excited for the project and feels welcomed by the town.
The Country Cinema has entered a new period over its century-long history in town and residents are curious to see what happens next.