Turnage shuts down

Published 1:52 am Friday, December 30, 2011

The closure of the Turnage Theater is the No. 4 local story of 2011.
Citing stubborn financial difficulties, a symptom of belt-tightening tied to the Great Recession, the Turnage Theaters Foundation announced in November that the historic theater’s doors would close Dec. 17.
There were no immediate plans to reopen 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,” read a November-released statement from the foundation.
The banks were to start the process of finding a buyer for the facility, the statement noted.
“The decision to close the theater was made unanimously by the Turnage Theaters Foundation Board of Trustees on November 22 once it was determined that operations could not be sustained under the existing financial structure and with projected operating losses,” the release read. “This decision was reached after months of negotiations with a consortium of five local banks led by Wells Fargo/Wachovia, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Trust Community Investment Corporation and on the advice of our attorneys.”
The nonprofit foundation and its public and private partners began their journey toward restoration of the early 20th-century theater in 1996.
Volunteers envisioned reviving the palace-style movie house — closed since the early 1980s — as a center for the performing arts.
That dream realized, the Turnage reopened to the public in November 2007, thanks to millions in public, private and corporate contributions, including $2 million lent by banks, $1 million contributed by the state and, over time, the commitment of $522,000 from the City of Washington, not including a tax-incentive grant from the city and Beaufort County.
The theater’s staff booked around 20 professional touring acts per year, with such performers as folk singer Richie Havens and pianist Emile Pandolfi booked for the first season. The hall was rented for everything from weddings to community-theater performances.
As the end of the year approached, groups talked informally about the possibility of reopening the Turnage, but no solid plans had been laid and the building’s future remained in doubt.
The foundation scheduled an annual meeting for Jan. 10 to elect officers “to supervise the continuing dealings with the banks and potential purchasers in the hope that the theater can be reopened under new management at some future date,” according to a recent news release from the foundation.
The curtain fell at the Turnage following a Dec. 16 performance by the Tar River Swing Band.
Prior to the beginning of the concert, Scotty Henley, outgoing executive director of the foundation, told the audience, “I do know that (the theater) will be open again. It has to, you have to believe that. … Let’s keep that vision in front of us, work toward a common goal of reopening the Turnage.”
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