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Local Family Strives to Revive Battered Windsor Landmark

The Plaza Theatre has not lived up to its rich history in two decades. The Sachdevs are working to change that.

Its doors have been padlocked shut for over a decade, the marquee advertising anything but a featured motion picture.

Windsor's Plaza building has come to serve as a looming reminder of a once-bustling town center and business potential yet to be fulfilled.

But just prior to the New Year, the Plaza building, with properties wrapping around the corner of Broad and Elm streets, changed hands for the third time in a decade. This time the building was purchased by Mohan Sachdev, the notable Windsor veterinarian.

With his son, Neill, at the helm of site development, Windsor residents will be pleased to know that the Sachdevs have every intention of resuscitating the dilapidated building and its adjacent storefronts, an effort Neill Sachdev refers to as "the lynchpin of the revitalization of Windsor."

Built in 1929 and fully developed into a home for local businesses, including the movie theatre, the Plaza building holds a special memory for nearly all residents, including many who saw their first movie on its silver screen.

Along with its historic nature, the project brings with it a certain amount of pressure — pressure that the 24-year-old Sachdev does not hesitate to recognize.

"It feels very daunting because everyone in town would like something to be done with this [building]," he says. "It's kind of difficult dealing with the pressure of it, but I would like to give Windsor [residents] something that they can be proud of again."

While the building was purchased at nearly half the price it sold for five years ago, and just over one-eighth the price it sold for in 1987 (nearly $2 million), the project is more than a financial investment to Sachdev.

Although he hails from Farmington, Neill Sachdev spent a fair share of his childhood with his family in Windsor. He vividly recalls seeing his first James Bond film at the Plaza; he smiles when he speaks of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie coming to its screen; and he treasures his memories of Santa Claus hopping off of the Amtrak at the Windsor Station to visit local kids at Christmas time.

Sachdev not only understands the place that the Plaza holds in the hearts of Windsor residents, but he understands the importance of preserving that place as he makes business decisions regarding its renovation.

"This theatre is such a rich part of [Windsor's] history. It's a historic building," he says, recognizing that residents want the historic building in a prime location to be used to enhance the quality of life here.

"Every parent that I talk to says that they want something for their kids to do. Every older person says they want somewhere to catch a movie. Everyone who's involved in the project, be it the electrician who's working on it — I showed him the theatre and he pointed to the seat where he watched E.T. — or one of our other handymen (he used to come here in the sixties), everyone who is involved would like something similar to what it was," says Sachdev.

While it would be nice to bring back what was, Sachdev does not hesitate to say "that's not going to happen."

"It's a different market, a different world," he explains.

The current market doesn't mean that the 555-seat space won't be used as a movie theatre, but it does mean that, with production companies taking the bulk of ticket sales and the inability to compete with chains like Rave or Showcase Cinemas, developing a theatre with the intention of screening blockbuster films is not a wise business decision.

"If we were going to turn it back into a movie theater, which we're not sure we're going to be able to, but if we were to, it would be different," says Sachdev.

"We've heard tons of ideas," he adds. "Some people want to turn it into a restaurant and things like that — but it's difficult to really change a lot without compromising the integrity of the historic landmark."

If he truly had his way, Sachdev, a film buff in his own right, would maintain every possible inch of historic quality to the building and have it serve as an independent movie house, something similar to Pleasantville, N.Y.'s Jacob Burns Film Center.

"Being able to host independent films and discussions with directors afterwards would just be a dream," says Sachdev, but he also recognizes that the space could be used in a number of ways.

The bottom line, he explains, is that, in this day in age, the Plaza Theatre, independent movie house or not, is not going to be a money maker.

In that vein, Sachdev believes it's important to develop a resource that can be used by the community and draw consumers from surrounding towns to Windsor Center.

The possibilities are many, and they're all being considered.

A representative from the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, interested in using the theatre as a rehearsal space, paid a visit to Broad Street to test the building's acoustics, which, according to Sachdev, they found to be on par with The Bushnell.

Sachdev has also considered using the space as a venue to showcase local musical talents, in addition to independent films. But whatever he decides to do with the building, he says, it's being done hand in hand with members of the community.

First Town Downtown, Planning and Zoning and the Town Office of Economic Development all have a say in what they would like to see done with the building, Sachdev says.

Windsor's director of economic development, Jim Burke, says the Sachdevs' purchase of the building and commitment to its development brings hope.
"We're very hopeful because the building is now in the hands of a local owner with ties to the community," said Burke.

"This is a great opportunity for a building that's significant in terms of commercial space. There aren't many truly commercial buildings in the town center. Most are residential buildings that have been converted."

The commercial space includes what are currently apartments on the second floor of the building and storefronts that run from Windsor Donut & Deli to the PC Development building beside the Geissler's plaza.

Sachdev says he would like to return the second-floor apartments to office space, but it was the ground floor shops that caught his eye in terms of the site's potential.

His top priority is the establishment of a restaurant beside the theatre.

"A restaurant is paramount," he says. "The theatre is not going to be a money maker, it never is. So it's just going to be the icing on the downtown cake."

Sachdev says he has been in talks with a number of interested parties, including the executive chef and owner of Wallingford's J. Christians, which was voted the best new restaurant in New Haven County in Connecticut Magazine's 2012 reader's poll.

The establishment of a renowned restaurant would not only prove financially beneficial to the Sachdevs, but would also benefit the town's efforts to develop Windsor Center.

Improvements to the town center have included the development of condominiums on Mechanic Street, the renovation of the library, the Huntington House, and, most recently, the sale of land for the development of 130 apartments behind Town Hall.

"Add to that the transit-oriented envelopment [the development of a high-speed rail line], and we're working to bring traffic to town center," says Burke. "The train will make it accessible to the entire region."

The town's recent developments were a major reason Neill and Mohan Sachdev decided to purchase the Plaza property.

"It's creating a destination spot," says Neill Sachdev. "That's the only way that Windsor is ever really going to take off - if we bring people here … This downtown area, it's accessible, parking is an issue, but if you do find a spot, walking from place to place shouldn't be too difficult. 

"I would just like to promote a more pedestrian-friendly kind of town space, a lot like West Hartford."

Before any of this becomes a reality, the building is in need of extensive repairs.

"Every day there seems to be a new crisis," says Sachdev. "The former owner was, in a word, horrendous. He patched things to the extent that he made them worse.

"We spent the first two weeks [working on it] — the carpet is gone, tile is gone, everything is gone, and that took a lot, let me tell you, but we had to do it."

Over the years, the building, especially its basement, has suffered a considerable amount of water damage, and the cost for repairs, Sachdev says, will be "pretty heavy."

Amy Rothenberger August 02, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Alamo Drafthouse is a chain.
Susan Perkins Brickley March 12, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Who remembers The Liberty Store that use to be next to the Plaza Theatre? As a young kid, I use to spend lots of time in there buying Penney candy or toys or school supplies. Remember my sister Gail taking me to movies there. Lots of memories. This is going back to 1959/60 timeframe. Susan Perkins
Susan Perkins Brickley March 12, 2013 at 02:11 PM
Great idea.
Gail Melluzzo March 12, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Good to see the town getting a face lift. Haven't been there in years.

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