Is Ridgefield’s Prospector Theater Wilton bound?

Photo of Alexander Soule
The founder of the Prospector Theater in Ridgefield is hinting about opening a second theater in Wilton.

The founder of the Prospector Theater in Ridgefield is hinting about opening a second theater in Wilton.

Contributed photo

As movie teasers go, it did not grab the attention nationally of the Mister Rogers biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” which starts runs this week at Ridgefield’s Prospector Theater and Bow Tie Cinemas in Wilton.

But with both theaters mum on a Facebook post this week by Prospector founder Valerie Jensen about the Bow Tie movie theater on River Road in Wilton, there is nevertheless plenty of buzz in the two communities — and by extension, the larger Connecticut universe of job opportunities for adults with disabilities.

The Prospector marks its five-year anniversary on Nov. 20, with Jensen having rebuilt the historic Ridgefield Playhouse on Prospect Street as a venue for first-run movies, classics and festivals featuring local filmmakers — and core to its mission, as a nonprofit training center to help people with development disabilities learn to work in a real job setting as preparation for other opportunities.

Jensen could not be reached immediately last week for comment on her Facebook post hinting at Prospector opening a second location at Wilton’s Bow Tie Cinema, or on any immediate goal to expand the Prospector concept to Wilton or other locations.

On the heels of Jensen’s Facebook post, the chief operating officer of Bow Tie Cinemas said the company intends to fulfill the full term of its lease, with Chief Operating Officer Joe Masher not ruling out an extension beyond that date which he did not reveal.

Kimco Realty, which owns the Bow Tie Cinemas building as part of the larger Wilton Executive Campus and adjoining Wilton River Park, does not list the theater among available properties in the complex.

Bow Tie, which has corporate offices in Ridgefield and New York City, has been investing millions of dollars to upgrade theaters in Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich, Trumbull and elsewhere in the Northeast, with Wilton having yet to included on the list of sites undergoing overhauls.

The Prospector’s nonprofit parent reported a $1.7 million payroll in 2017 for its “Prospects” that work at the theater, the most recent year its financial statements are online as reported to the Internal Revenue Service. Revenue was roughly equal to that amount, with the theater reported $1.3 million in additional operating expenses — about half of it in the form of royalties — which it covered through philanthropic contributions that helped push assets above $7 million entering last year.

Jensen’s spouse Greg is co-chief investment officer alongside Bob Prince at Bridgewater Associates, the Westport hedge fund that is the world’s largest.

In its 2017 annual report with the IRS — a year in which the nonprofit was dubbed employer of the year by the Connecticut Autism Action Coalition — the Prospector continued to express the goal of expanding the reach of its services, with Jensen noting in an interview that year of the daunting hurdles faced by the people it helps.

In addition to working ticket and concessions counters, the Prospector program gives its employees opportunities to hone their public-speaking skills in introducing movies to audiences prior to the screening of previews.

In its annual report, Jensen’s nonprofit gave a peek as to its plans as it looks to build on the Ridgefield theater’s success, with its board having established a “Pink Sky” reserve to underwrite the cost of starting up any new locations.

“We have scouted and conducted due diligence for additional movie theaters and are exploring the possibilities of expanding into new markets whether it be a bowling alley, arcade, car wash or another venture with an emphasis on employment and training of people with disabilities,” the document states. “We will be ready for expansion when we find the right fit.”

Patricia Gay contributed to this report, which includes prior reporting by Paul Schott.; 203-842-2545; @casoulman