Colonial Williamsburg signs lease with William and Mary to operate Kimball Theatre

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation needed the money. The College of William and Mary was looking for theater space.

Both got what they needed and in the end, kept the doors open to a community treasure.

Less than two weeks after the foundation announced it would close the Kimball Theatre as a cost-saving measure, the College of William and Mary, with a on-campus theater renovation project on the horizon, signed a three-and-a-half year lease to operate the Merchants Square facility.

The lease takes effect Aug. 1 and will run through January 2021, with options for annual renewals, according to university spokesman Brian Whitson.

Colonial Williamsburg closed the theater July 6, meaning the facility will have been closed for less than a month.

The university will pay Colonial Williamsburg $315,000 per year, and about $1.1 million over the course of the lease — $250,000 per year in base rent for the Kimball, and another $65,000 per year as part of the requirement for Merchant Square tenants to maintain the common areas, Whitson said.

Whitson said the university plans on using the Kimball for instruction and programming during the upcoming renovation of the Phi Beta Kappa Hall main stage theater.

“It fills an immediate need as we looked at available spaces on campus for performances and theater instruction while (Phi Beta Kappa Hall) was under renovations,” Whitson said. “We were looking for an option, and this was something that really, will work for the university. I think it will work for Colonial Williamsburg. It also provides a bridge period for community organizations to work and develop a long-term plan for the theatre’s viability.”

Foundation President Mitchell Reiss announced the Kimball would close in efforts to cut costs and stabilize Colonial Williamsburg’s finances. He said following the Kimball’s closure that he hoped someone would step up and lease the theater.

The theater had lost money every year since 1999, including $782,000 in 2016, Reiss said.

“The Kimball Theatre has long had a significant place in our community,” said William and Mary President Taylor Reveley in a prepared statement. “We are delighted to work with our neighbors at Colonial Williamsburg to give the theatre a renewed lease on life.”

The university had considered other options, but Whitson said they were all more expensive than leasing the Kimball.

One of those potential options, Trinkle Hall, would have cost three times as much to renovate as what the university is paying to Colonial Williamsburg, Whitson said. Other options were either not available or not suitable for departmental needs, Whitson said.

“We’re very pleased that a key local partner and friend, the city’s oldest institution — William and Mary — has stepped forward to operate this important cultural institution,” Reiss said in a prepared statement. “It is a win for our two organizations, students of the college and all those in the community who hoped we could find a way to save the Kimball, and I look forward to returning for events in the years to come.”

CultureFix, led by founder Steve Rose, had announced July 1 that the local nonprofit group would pursue operating the Kimball. A representative from CultureFix had not returned calls seeking comment on W&M’s announcement by late Tuesday.

Sam Jones, senior vice president for finance and administration at William and Mary, said the theater will be available for community use “to the extent possible when not in use by W&M.”

Jones said the university’s intent is not to determine or limit the long-term use of the Kimball Theatre.

The multi-phase Arts Quarter project will shut down Phi Beta Kappa Hall for renovations beginning in 2018, Whitson said. Planning for the renovation is already underway. Construction is set for summer 2018. He said the project should take two years to complete.

The university has previously hosted events at the Kimball, including the annual William and Mary Global Film Festival, along with choral, music, dance and theatre productions, the release states.

When academic departments are not using the Kimball, scheduling for it will be managed by the university’s conference and event services.

Jones said the university would be reviewing commitments that were in place with Colonial Williamsburg for this fall and spring 2018 prior to the Kimball’s closure. He said each event would be evaluated on an individual basis, with the university in the midst of developing a firm plan for the Kimball.

“We’re very early in the planning for the theatre, but we’re working on specifics on scheduling, pricing for community use and the process to reserve the space,” Jones said in a statement. “We believe this agreement will benefit the university, Colonial Williamsburg and the community.”

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
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