Cine 4 closes in New Haven, a planned early childhood education center

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The lights are out and the popcorn is gone from a decades-old independent movie theater on Middletown Avenue — which new nonprofit owners aim to convert into a bustling campus for affordable early childhood education.

These are the latest developments with the Cine 4 movie theater property at 371 Middletown Ave./ 25 Flint St. in Quinnipiac Meadows near the North Haven border. The theater showed its latest films last week, screening “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” and “Elvis.”

According to the city’s online land records database, on August 5, the Friends Center for Children Inc. purchased the 1.93-acre parking lot and movie theater property from Soffer Associates for $1.3 million. The city last appraised the property at $1,070,900.

The new owner of the property – a Quaker-influenced Fair Haven Heights-based early childhood education program – plans to turn the former movie theater site into offices, classrooms, a library and outdoor play spaces for young children and daycares. They also plan to preserve one of the theater’s four screening rooms as a community space for watching movies.

The closing and sale of Ciné 4, meanwhile, marks the end of five decades of operation of this independent theater as one of the last cinemas in the city.

The four-screen independent cinema opened in 1971.

Theater has survived the transition from film to digital. It reopened after a COVID-19 pandemic-induced hiatus, and after watching all other non-college cinemas in the city except the Criterion cinemas on Temple Street close shop as a suburban cineplex, then home streaming services took over the industry. Now he also packed.

“There’s a beginning and an end to everything,” second-generation Cine 4 co-owner Stu Soffer told the Independent with a terse lack of sentimentality in a brief phone interview on Wednesday. “It is what it is.”

He said cinema property has been “in the market for a long, long time.”

He praised the new owner of the property – a nonprofit led by local early childhood education advocate Allyx Schiavone – for its plans to breathe new life into the site.

“Allyx is a very good person,” he said. “Very capable. Very smart. She’s a good woman and she knows what she’s doing. (Click here to read an August 2021 article by retired New Haven Register reporter Randy Beach on reopening of Ciné 4 during the pandemic, and the story of Soffer and his family who have been running local cinema for decades.)

So. Now that Cine 4 is no more, what happens next to 371 Middletown Ave. ?

In a Wednesday afternoon phone call with Independent, Friends Center for Children executive director Allyx Schiavone detailed her nonprofit’s ambitious plans to transform the former cinema site into a vibrant center teaching, learning and play for young children and their families.

Schiavone’s Quaker-influenced early childhood education program currently operates from locations on East Grand Avenue and Blake Street.

It provides full-time childcare for 50 weeks a year to a racially and economically diverse group of young children aged three months to five years, as well as free housing for its teachers and tuition fees. school fees for participating families.

“The early childhood education industry is in crisis,” Schiavone told the Independent. “It’s a sector of our community that is underfunded. It’s undervalued. It’s marginalized. … The Friends Center is committed to doing all we can to ensure that children, Families and educators thrive in a learning community for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

She said her organization recognizes the “tremendous supply and demand problem” of many more New Haveners seeking affordable education and child care options than are currently available. And she said that , for the Friends Center to significantly increase salaries in an industry that consistently underpays its work, “we need to achieve a certain scale so that we can have sliding-scale tuition revenue that can allow us to raise wages.

In that vein, she said, the Friends Center is looking to expand significantly across the city.

In addition to its current East Grand Avenue and Blake Street daycares, it plans to open a third site in the future Dixwell Plaza redevelopment to be built by ConnCORP. It then plans to build a fourth child care site in the new Friends Center Cine 4 theater on Middletown Avenue.

According to a Friends Center growth Schiavone shared with the Independent, the group plans to grow over the next five years from serving 122 children and employing 39 staff today, to serving 360 children and employing 118. staff members by June 2027.

What exactly is the Friends Center envisioning for the former theater site on Middletown Avenue/Flint Street?

Schiavone said his organization is still in the very early stages of development on this project. She said she plans to meet with an architect about this site next week.

Nevertheless, the current vision is to convert the cinema building into centralized administrative and academic offices for the Friends Center, a library of teaching materials, a catering kitchen and a teacher training center.

The offices will be occupied by the organization’s seven program directors, she said. When fully operational, the site should be able to accommodate nearly 100 children and will be supported by 38 educators.

“We plan to keep one of the cinemas,” Schiavone said of Cine 4’s existing four cinema screens. ”, and generally use this room as “presentation space. »

As for the sea of ​​asphalt parking that currently surrounds the old cinema building, she said it will be transformed into “green space for our outdoor playgrounds” and other more aesthetically pleasing outdoor parts of the planned new campus of preschool.

She added that the Friends Center is currently fundraising and applying for grants to help defray the cost of renovating the existing cinema building.

The five-year growth plan that Schiavone shared with the Independent underscores just how urgent the need is for the kinds of services the Friends Center wants to continue to provide on a larger scale.

“New Haven is a child care wasteland,” the plan reads. “For 10 New Haven families seeking infant and toddler care, there are only two spaces available. These spaces are dramatically unaffordable for families and vary widely in quality and hours. According to According to the United States Department of the Treasury, for child care to be considered affordable, a New Haven family with one infant must have an annual income of $315,000.The median income in New Haven is $41,000.

“The next five years of expansion,” this plan continues, “propels us to increase equity while we think about our community and the system at the same time.”

Growing up just outside of New Haven, Schiavone said she’s been to Cine 4 countless times over the years. “I grew up going to the movies. My sister had her first kiss in that theater,” she said. “Everyone I talked to has a connection to that place.”

Decades later, she says, she even has a bit of her hometown’s theater history in her current home. “For my 16th birthday, one of my best friends climbed” onto the theater marquee and “borrowed” the oversized red letter “A” that was used to spell the title of a film screening at Cine 4 at the era .

“It’s a space that means a lot,” Schiavone said. “There is a lot of positive energy” in this former cinema. And, since the Friends Center is “in the space of providing joyful learning and opportunities for children, families and teachers,” she said, she wants to bring that same positive energy into a new chapter of the history of this property.

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