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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ocean State Theatre Company Looks To Rent Warehouse In East Greenwich

Ocean State Theatre Company, which leases Theatre-By-The-Sea in Matunuck, wants a year-round home, but will keep leasing in South Kingston.

By Elizabeth McNamara

If Ocean State Theatre Company, producing company at Theatre By The Sea, has its way, there could be two theater organizations anchoring East Greenwich's Main Street.

OSTC wants to rent the warehouse building at 461 Main St. in East Greenwich, which sits next to Centreville Bank.

The theater company has been looking for a year-round home for four years, according to Amiee Turner, producing artistic director and president of OSTC. It leases Theatre-by-the-Sea, in Matunuck, but that theater is only available 14 weeks a year – for the summer season. It would continue leasing Theatre-by-the-Sea.

The Odeum Theatre, down the street, is in the process of raising money for renovations required before it can reopen.

Representatives from OSTC appeared before East Greenwich's Historic District Commission Wednesday night seeking approval of plans to modify the exterior of the building.

The building, owned by Allen Gammons, is within the town’s Historic District but is classified as a "noncontributing property." That lessens the possible restrictions, but it still needs HDC approval to exterior changes and Wednesday night the panel granted that permission, removing one hurdle toward occupancy.

“The project itself is a huge improvement on that building,” said HDC chairwoman Kim Balkcom. OSTC wants to paint the corrugated metal siding that covers three sides of the building, make improvements to the site to delineate the street from the parking lot and add a mural to the side of the building that faces Union Street.

Gammons, reached Thursday, said he was glad to hear that the HDC had approved the theater’s plan.

“We are verbally in agreement,” he said, cautioning however, “we have nothing signed.”

Turner said that OSTC wants office space, educational space and a performance space. The building at 461 Main St. could fulfill all those needs, she said. And, according to Gammons, it’s one of the few buildings with its own parking. That parking would probably be sufficient for the number of cars expected for day-to-day operations, but it would fall short of the number needed for performances.

OSTC has already approached neighboring businesses, including Centreville Bank and Crestar, about using their lots on performance nights. Both have been amenable, Turner said.

“We’re working with both of those facilities,” said Turner. “We’re in positive conversations with them. The question remains if that will be enough for the town.”

Turner said that OSTC did approach the Odeum about rental possibilities.

“We are very aware of the Odeum,” she said. “It seemed clear to us that they had their own plan and they are working hard toward it.”

Turner said that OSTC has been looking for office and educational space more than a pure theater space. “Under those guises, the Odeum really doesn’t fit with our programming needs,” she said.

As for any sense of competition between the two arts organizations, Turner said she didn’t see that. “Having two arts organizations in downtown East Greenwich can only help. It’s not a competition of any sorts.”

“We hire 120 employees every summer. We’re a huge economic boon,” said Turner. “One of the advantages that we perceive as a positive [for East Greenwich] is the economic impact.”

The building, one of the largest on Main Street, used to be home to Ross Aker Furniture. OSTC’s use would require approval from the Zoning Board for both a change of use and, possibly, a parking variance. In addition, the proposal would need the Fire Marshall’s blessing. Turner acknowledged Thursday that those hurdles were significant.

“We have much less control over those issues,” said Turner. But, she added, “we’re committed to working with the town to find solutions.”

Nothing is settled yet. Still, she said, “we are excited. It does represent a very real and tangible opportunity for us that we’ve been looking for for four years.”

This article has been republished with permission from South Kingston Patch.