Statement from Turnage Theaters Foundation

Published 12:50 am Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Turnage Theater will cease operations Dec. 17 following the Dec. 16 performance of the Tar River Swing Band’s Christmas show.

The decision to close the theater was made unanimously by the Turnage Theaters Foundation Board of Trustees on Nov. 22 once it was determined that operations could not be sustained under the existing financial structure and with projected operating losses. This decision was reached after months of negotiations with a consortium of five local banks led by Wells Fargo/Wachovia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Trust Community Investment Corporation and on the advice of the foundation’s attorneys.

Beginning in 1996, the foundation commenced raising $3 million from local corporations, government grants and individual donations, and in 2006 borrowed an additional $2 million from the aforementioned banks to complete the renovations of the theater. The $2 million bank loan was guaranteed at 80 percent by the USDA Rural Development Program. Once the restoration was completed and the theater opened in late 2007, it became a center for the performing arts in the area and a centerpiece in the economic revitalization of downtown Washington.

Unfortunately, insufficient funds were raised at the outset to establish an endowment for theater operations or to fully staff the theater as envisioned in its business plan. Additionally, its opening four years ago coincided with the worst financial conditions experienced in the economy since the 1930s.

The Turnage is the only such theater in North Carolina that is not provided substantial financial support by a local government or a university. Despite annually improving ticket sales and gross profitability through the 2010-2011 season and generous support from individuals and some local businesses, the theater has been underfunded and understaffed from the outset. The recent end to generous grant support ($100,000 per year over five years) from the City of Washington and the lack of continuing support from most local corporations, coupled with unsuccessful grant applications, have led the trustees to the decision to cease operations.

The remaining upcoming events, a Christmas homes tour in Washington Park beginning at 10 a.m. Dec. 3 and Jennifer Licko’s Celtic Christmas that night, The East Coast Jazz Revue on Dec. 10 and the Tar River Swing Band’s “Big Band Christmas” on Dec. 16 will be held as scheduled. Tickets for these events are on sale at the theater and it is hoped the community will support these final programs and help the Turnage “go dark” gracefully.

The Turnage Theaters Foundation will be evaluating all alternatives for reopening the theater. However, there is no definitive plan for reopening the theater, and at this time it appears that ownership of the theater will be assumed by the banks holding the outstanding mortgage, which now stands at $960,000. The banks will then begin the process of finding a buyer for the theater.