Pictured is the interior of the shuttered Lynn Armory.
By THOMAS GRILLO
LYNN — City Council President Darren Cyr is floating an idea to turn the shuttered Armory on South Common Street into a small performing arts theater.
But there’s just one problem. The Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND), whose mission is to provide safe and affordable housing for the needy, has spent nearly a year developing a plan to turn the 124-year-old landmark into veterans’ housing.
Cyr confirmed he’s interested in finding the money to buy the 37,602-square-foot facility that was once used to store weapons. “It’s just a way of thinking outside the box,” he said. “We’re in the discussion stages right now and trying to figure out if it can work.”
The idea would be to convert the cavernous space into a 500-seat theater that would book acts that could not fill the 2,100-seat Lynn Memorial Auditorium. Once known for classic rock concerts featuring headliners such as Kansas and Foreigner, the stage has also featured William Shatner, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, and Melissa Etheridge.
James Marsh, community development director and general manager of Lynn Auditorium, said the reason to add a second theater would be to compete with places like the Larcom Performing Arts Theatre and Cabot Theatre in Beverly.
“Lynn used to have more than a dozen movie theaters and they’re gone,” he said. “So we are missing out on those smaller shows and losing them to the competition.”
But Marsh was quick to add that he is not in competition with LHAND.
“The housing authority is looking at it and they have first dibs,” he said. “If they don’t find a suitable use for it or they end up not bidding on it, then we would take a look to see about the viability of a 500-seat venue.”
When contacted last week by The Item, Charles Gaeta, LHAND’s executive director, said he had not heard of Cyr’s plan. Since then, he has talked to the council president about the agency’s vision for vets housing.
In an interview Thursday, Cyr said the two different uses are not incompatible.
“If we could build a theater and housing for veterans that would be a win win,” he said.
Under LHAND’s proposal, the nonprofit would transform the Romanesque-style building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places into 20 micro-units that measure between 250 and 350 square feet. The nonprofit has hired an architect to devise a housing plan for the building and come up with a cost estimate for renovation.
The property is owned by the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM), the agency that handles the state’s real estate. It has declared the armory as surplus property.
DCAMM did not return a call seeking information on the status of the sale.
The next step is an appraisal. DCAMM and LHAND will then negotiate a price. The property is assessed at $1.7 million by the city.
Thomas Grillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.