Playhouse owner Kevin Daugherty had asserted for several months that a bar with cascading decks to be located behind the historic structure would help defray theater costs and was integral to his business model for saving and maintaining the building. But zoning officials appeared taken aback to learn that there were to be three bar areas — one near the lobby, another at the outdoor concession stand in the parking lot, and a third at the rear of the building.
And while the special “performance” liquor license being sought by theater officials allows for the serving of alcohol for up to an hour before an after a given performance, Playhouse officials intend to keep the rear bar adjacent to the Delaware River open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Adding fuel to the zoning board’s building ire was the argument by Tanya Cooper, president of Daugherty’s Bridge Street Foundation, that having an acoustic musician performing at most times would satisfy the “hour before and after performance” license requirement. Playhouse officials appeared to further irritate the Zoning Hearing Board by explaining that electronic amplification might be required at times, apparently unaware that zoning officials abhor amplified music on the banks of the Delaware River, where sound can reverberate great distances.
And then there was the restaurant. Playhouse officials said it was no secret that they intended to serve food at the proposed rear deck bar, and that a small protected food preparation area and additional bathrooms were previously green-lighted by the Borough Zoning Officer.
Normally reticent Zoning Hearing Board Chairperson Sandy Santello said she felt “blindsided” by the restaurant aspect of the proposal, and board lawyer William Bolla also expressed dismay that a restaurant was being proposed because it would require extra borough and county approvals along with payments for additional parking requirements, and had not been fully reflected in previous submissions.
Said one attendee who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the proposal, “It felt like they were trying to slip one by.”
One retail store owner who requested anonymity said, “I normally support the Playhouse in whatever they do because it’s good for business. But before they were talking about saving the Playhouse, and now it sounds like a big business.”
Zoning Hearing Board members traditionally do not comment on matters before them, and recent requests for this article were no exception.
The Playhouse’s Cooper said in a statement:
“We have always been clear and transparent about our plans for the restoration of the Playhouse. Officials were made well aware of our intentions to include a grand deck and bar on the back of the establishment. Servicing the great community of New Hope is our primary goal. We are confident that with the continued phenomenal support of the citizens of New Hope, we can work together to complete our vision for the restoration of this beloved Playhouse.”
Discussion of the matter will continue at a Zoning Hearing Board meeting scheduled for Nov. 1.
(Story updated 5:30 p.m.)