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Letter: Clear Space a real asset in Rehoboth

March 19, 2019

The following letter was sent to Rehoboth Mayor Paul Kuhns, commissioners and committee members, with  copy submitted to the Cape Gazette for publication.

I am writing in support of the new building proposed for Clear Space Theater at 413-417 Rehoboth Ave.  Although I live in Lewes, I am very active in the Rehoboth Beach community, and I work in downtown Rehoboth at 402 Rehoboth Ave., both in the sense that my office is located here, and I serve some of the small businesses within the community.  

I have been performing at and attending the theater since 2013.  I moved to the area from Long Island in 2010 with my family of five, at the same time as my husband’s sister and her family of five did.  All of our kids attend local schools, and we are all working professionals who frequent downtown Rehoboth.

I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island and spent a lot of time in my youth working and playing in the East End towns of the Hamptons, so I definitely appreciate the unique challenges of and the tenuous relationships between the summer population and the local population.  I’ve also been supporting small businesses as a staff accountant and CPA for nearly 20 years, so I have great sympathy and understanding for the needs and concerns of the local business owners.

I truly feel that the downtown area benefits from the existence of the theater in its midst, and that the new facility will continue to increasingly draw patrons to the downtown, its shops and its restaurants, not only during the summer season, but throughout the year.  At a recent performance of “The Graduate” (which was sold out), my family and friends (and my sister-in-law’s friends from Sussex Academy and Beebe Medical, where her husband works) filled up more than an entire row at the theater, dining at The Pearl beforehand and going out for a post-show cocktail afterward.  

Patrons of the arts in general do tend to also have an interest in the local craft artists with shops in town, and in culinary arts, and the theater activities provide a reason for them to do this in Rehoboth rather than in Lewes or along the highway.  As a performer, I know that I and the other performers and staff do frequent the downtown restaurants and stores during the rehearsal process.  I recently chose Elite PT to treat a shoulder injury for the very reason that it was in town, making it easier for me to get to rehearsals or to dinner with my friends before rehearsals.

The theater also provides an activity that keeps summer visitors downtown on a rainy day, rather than having them all evacuate to the movie theater on the highway.  The new location at the head of the town will make this more likely, as visitors will more easily discover it than when it was located on Baltimore Avenue.  

I do understand the concerns about parking, but would like to point out that the facility will be built upon three lots.  If the theater is not built, you will very likely end up with three smaller buildings or businesses that take up the same total square footage, but that will provide zero parking.  The 28 spaces that the theater will be providing I know they plan to make available to visitors during the prime beach hours, since the theater’s shows perform primarily in the evenings, so it will actually be contributing to the available parking during those hours.

Another important point is that the current theater space on Baltimore Avenue has 192 seats, which of late are often sold out or nearly sold out, without the theater having any parking spaces at all, for either their audience or their performers and staff. If the theater moves to the spot near the circle, it will likely open up more spaces along the beach blocks of Baltimore, Maryland and Olive for the city’s public events.  Essentially, this project results in moving the theater from a more congested area of town, to a part of the town where there is less competition for parking.

In terms of the safety concerns, I do not understand how the new facility presents any challenges in terms of traffic flow and pedestrian safety that do not already exist in the convention center that operates successfully down the street.

I think that it could be very shortsighted for the city to hold up this project from moving forward.  Every delay holds up the current landowner, and the government agencies and fundraising avenues that are supporting the financing of the project.  If the building is unable to be built in this downtown area, its best second option will most likely be along the highway, and I think the disappointment of the business and the greater Rehoboth community who really want to see it stay downtown will be very real. 

While I do understand the importance of setting proper precedence in building codes and to look at what it might mean to the town on a larger scale, I think I represent a broad population of those of us in the greater Rehoboth area who hope that solutions and compromises will be found that will support the project going forward in as expedient a manner as possible.  

I think this project needs to be given creative consideration to solve the problems presented that would be similar to any facility that serves the community, such as a library. 

The purpose of the facility MUST be taken into consideration, as well as how the facility currently functions, when applying the code.  There are reasons for why the parking code exists, but applying this in a way that conforms to the letter of the law but misses where exceptions to the norm might lie for this type of organization, may result in the town losing the theater and its associated goodwill and business.

Tara Wisely
Wisely Business Services
Rehoboth Beach

 

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