Drive to build a community theater detoured
Craig Blamer’s drive to create a subscriber-based community performance space called The Barn has hit a snag. After months of pouring money and labor into retrofitting an old warehouse on 11th Street near Park Avenue, he is relocating a few blocks south, based on a very timely offer. He said meeting the city’s permit fees and zoning requirements have proven too tough.
The offer has also unhinged him from boldly moving forward without permits as he suggested he would do back in July (See “Behind the Barn,” Scene, July 10.)
“Right when we are just starting to get the ball rolling for our mission plan,” he said during a recent interview, “the city came down and landed on us and told us that we couldn’t do it and if we did, we would be fined $1,000.”
Blamer is a tough guy. We know first-hand. He’s written movie and theater reviews for this paper for two decades. He suffered a stroke in January and, during his recovery, came up with the idea of creating a space that would offer free meals, movies and theater to help local artists while also providing local entertainment. The work, he figured, would serve as a kind of physical rehabilitation. He began the project in the former auto-upholstery shop on June 1.
“Since we work off a subscriber base rather than an admission thing,” he said, “we were looking to open up The Barn for members to come in and participate in what we have to offer during the evening. Since this is a grassroots effort making slow progress, all we’ve really been able to do up to now is show movies in there.”
He began showing the movies at the beginning of October and said the most he’s had in attendance at any one time was eight.
“We were advertising movies we were going to be showing on our member page,” he said. “Basically, we were just showing free movies to five to eight people sitting in lawn chairs. It’s pretty much no different than having your friends over and sitting on your lawn and projecting a movie on the side of your house.”
He was also living in the warehouse, which had a bedroom and was zoned residential/mixed-use, but the city kicked him out, he said. He was threatened with fines for living in the space, which was not up to code for occupancy.
Mark Wolfe, the city’s community development director, said his office first got in touch with Blamer in July.
“We met with Mr. Blamer and then sent him a zoning verification letter on July 31 outlining our clarifications for what permits were necessary,” Wolfe said. The Barn would have needed a use permit to allow for group assembly. The application for said permit is $3,000, which is nonrefundable and doesn’t guarantee approval. “That was the last contact we had from him until a neighbor sent a copy of a Facebook page about movies that he was showing there. We told him if he continued he would be fined.
“We were hoping that he would cooperate and then we got another neighbor who said somebody was living there,” Wolfe said. “We talked to him last week about stopping the theater stuff and not residing there. The building is not really set up to do what he wants to do. And it was going to be costly to bring it up to code for occupancy.”
The day before the city visited him and gave him the ultimatum, one of his subscribers contacted him and said if the present location didn’t work out, she had a space available. That space, he said, already has a stage and a kitchen and is up to code. It’s unclear, as he would not reveal the location of the new space just yet, whether that same use permit will be needed.
“I look at it as it was meant to be,” he said. “If the offer hadn’t been there I would have rolled up my sleeves and fought to stay. But ultimately this isn’t about my weird idea of entertainment, it’s about the project and that is way more important.”