Many residents and visitors to Rehoboth Beach, the popular Delaware resort destination, are urging the mayor and city officials to back a proposed change in the city code needed to allow a beloved performing arts theater to move into a larger building.
The Clear Space Theater Company, founded in 2004, has produced highly acclaimed Broadway style plays and musicals and operates an Arts Institute that teaches theater to students of all ages in a former church building it rents on Baltimore Avenue near the boardwalk.
Last September, the theater announced plans to build its own larger building that would include a 300-seat theater on Rehoboth Avenue next to the traffic circle at the entrance to the beach city. The current theater in the space once used by Epworth United Methodist Church has 192 seats and has become too cramped for rehearsals, classes and other activities, according to its staff and board.
Clear Space Theater officials said they made adjustments to the architectural plans for the new 25,600-square-foot building, including lowering its height, so it meets all city codes except for a requirement that it include 128 on-site parking spaces.
Wesley Paulson, the Clear Space executive director, said the nonprofit theater company doesn’t have the funds to include more than 28 parking spaces, which would be located in a basement garage under the current plans and budget for the new theater.
He has asked Rehoboth Mayor Paul Kuhns and the Board of Commissioners, which serves as the city’s legislative body, to consider designating the land on which the new theater is slated to be built as a performing arts district. Such a designation would exempt the theater from the parking space requirement.
During a Board of Commissioners workshop meeting on Feb. 4 two residents who said their houses are located directly behind where the new theater is planned to be built told commissioners it is far too large for what they say is a mostly residential area.
Paulson said the decision to lower the building’s height places it in compliance with the city code in terms of the theater’s size.
The Board of Commissioners, of which the mayor is a member, initially announced it would hold a vote on whether to make a code change or find another way to exempt the theater from the parking requirement at its Feb. 15 meeting. But during its Feb. 4 workshop meeting Kuhns and other commissioners said they prefer not to be bound by a vote or final decision on the matter by Feb. 15.
Kuhns said he believes the matter should be referred back to the city Planning Commission, which he said should make a recommendation on the best course of action the city should take in resolving the parking issue.
Kuhns noted, however, that he and commission members have received numerous emails and other messages urging them to support Clear Space Theater’s efforts to build its new theater at its chosen location.
Some of the messages are posted on the Rehoboth city website. Several point out that the theater brings people into Rehoboth from other parts of Delaware and nearby states who patronize the city’s restaurants and stores.
“We are encouraging people supportive of the theater to write to the mayor and city manager to urge them to support this project,” said Laura Mason, a member of the theater’s board.
“Seventy-five percent of our patrons dine in town at a restaurant when they come to the theater from outside of Rehoboth,” Mason told the Blade. “These are people who would not be coming to Rehoboth if not for a theater performance,” she said.
Among the plays performed at Clear Space Theater last year was “The Normal Heart,” the internationally acclaimed play by gay writer and activist Larry Kramer about how gay men grappled with AIDS during the early years of the epidemic.
Those interested in weighing in can email Mayor Kuhns at email@example.com.