After nearly four years of trying, Clear Space Theatre Company in Rehoboth Beach has decided to end its bid for a new home on Rehoboth Avenue.
During a meeting July 25, the theater’s board of directors voted to sell its property at 413, 415 and 417 Rehoboth Ave., and to also end ongoing litigation with city surrounding the proposed theater.
Clear Space Executive Director Wesley Paulson confirmed the board’s decision, saying the board and staff had a challenging discussion, and ultimately voted to end the project on Rehoboth Avenue.
“Clear Space has spent years working on this project, and it is not easy to see it end,” said Paulson, in a statement July 26.
Clear Space first introduced the idea of a new performing arts theater on the three Rehoboth Avenue lots in October 2018. The theater later purchased the adjoining lots in December 2019. At the time, the proposed theater was one large building. In March 2020, the theater revealed plans for a two-building complex.
Clear Space had its site plan for the theater complex approved by the planning commission twice in 2021. Both times, a group of concerned citizens appealed the planning commission’s decision to city commissioners, and both times commissioners reversed the approval. In response, the theater filed a lawsuit in August 2021 against the city, seeking to overturn the commissioners’ reversal.
More recently, in May, a Superior Court judge ruled the site plan twice approved by the planning commission could be included as part of the lawsuit.
Mayor Stan Mills declined to comment on Clear Space’s decision to abandon its Rehoboth Avenue plans and its legal action against the city. It was not part of the city's legal strategy to prolong court proceedings as long as possible to add unnecessary delays and costs, he said.
“I am very pleased to know that Clear Space will continue to provide performances and education opportunities within the City of Rehoboth Beach for many years to come,” said Mills, in an email July 27.
Paulson said he believes it is more important than ever for the theater’s loyal patrons and supporters to remember its mission to inspire audiences, artists and students by providing high-quality performances and educational experiences; and the theater’s vision to be a leader in the vibrant arts community in southern Delaware.
“This mission and vision have not changed throughout the site selection process,” said Paulson.
Clear Space will continue at its current location on Baltimore Avenue and provide live theater at the beach, said Paulson. There’s a full season of shows and classes for the remainder of 2022, and there are plans for exciting seasons for many years to come, he said.
Clear Space has been operating in the old Epworth United Methodist Church property on Baltimore Avenue since 2010. The lease had been set to expire at the end of 2020, but with no end in sight to the ongoing approval process, officials signed a five-year lease to remain at the same location in late 2020.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from Mayor Stan Mills.