The Cape Region has a growing, vibrant, sophisticated population that's hungry for the arts and a center that would host them.
That was the message of Darrell Grinstead, Rehoboth Beach Film Society president, at a recent meeting.
Addressing nearly 50 state, county and local officials, members of the region's arts community and nonprofits and interested individuals at the Atlantic Sands Hotel in Rehoboth Beach May 30, Grinstead said the area is no longer just a summer destination that's sleepy during the winter months.
The focus of the meeting was to gauge the enthusiasm for building a center for the arts in Sussex County.
This is not a new topic, Grinstead said, and the arts organizations looking for space are not struggling.
“They're not looking to start a movement. They're looking to find a home,” he said.
Sue Early, executive director of the film society, organized the meeting after news broke in April that this will be the last year for the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival at Movies at Midway in Rehoboth. The festival has called the theater home for 17 years, and this year it will split shows between the movie theater and Cape Henlopen High School. A location for the 2015 festival is under discussion.
Early said a quick look at a portion of the nonprofit arts and culture organizations in the county shows an industry providing jobs and money to local businesses, residents and governments.
Early said nine prominent nonprofits in the county spend $4.7 million a year and provide the equivalent of 160 full-time jobs. The estimated amount of money spent would be higher if all the region's organizations were taken into account, she said.
Dennis Forney, Cape Gazette publisher, was the event facilitator. He said he expects growth in the county to continue. This is an exciting, active, vibrant place that will attract audiences, he said.
Forney said lots of times, it's the hurdles that get the attention, but the focus should be on the solutions. He said the gathering was the flashpoint needed to get this a new performing arts center moving.
One of those hurdles is the cost of land – a problem that's lingered since the discussion began over a decade ago. Sheila Bravo, Rehoboth Art League executive director, said funding could be found for the building; it's the land that's an issue.
But at least one person at the meeting thought land issues could be resolved.
Preston Schell, owner of the development company Schell Brothers, was in disbelief that a group involved with the original plan to build a performing arts center had a hard time finding land. He said developers tend to have a herd mentality; if a request for proposals were developed, it would get four or five offers, he said.
“I don’t think it would be a problem,” Schell said. “The only thing better than a great amenity is a great amenity that’s paid for.”
Early said a venue that seats 500 people with space for the necessary parking would require a 10- to 12-acre parcel.
Sussex County Councilman George Cole said it would be best to have the answers to as many potential problems as possible to garner the governmental support a project of this nature would need. He made three observations.
First, he suggested, as the discussions on the building move forward, it would be good to get all the interested organizations under one umbrella. The general public has no idea there is a group like this, he said.
Second, Cole said, the venue should be used to improve arts and culture offerings, not as a marketing tool to bring more visitors to the Cape Region.
“We don’t need more people. We need to do a better job for who is coming,” he said.
Third, Cole said, he didn’t believe people would drive to areas of the county where land is going to be cheaper.
“It must have a coastal impact as you move forward,” he said.
No decisions were made at the meeting, but Early encouraged the group to continue the conversation and said she hoped it would fuel the discussion.
The seeds have been planted, she said.