Sunrise Faces Financial Issues
Officials of the venerable Sunrise Theater hint at money problems — while avoiding any doom-and-gloom statements that might cause alarm.
“We’re not capsizing. I don’t want people to panic,” says Patricia Wallace, the theater’s business manager. “We just occasionally run into times when a number of things hit us, and this is one of those times.”
The most pressing need today is a new roof. Tomorrow, it will be a sprinkler system in the basement. Down the road, it will be a new movie screen, curtains and improved stage lighting.
“There’s also a constant need to upgrade the technology,” Wallace says. “You start adding up all those dollars, and you hit the $200,000 range.
“The programs themselves do not cover the annual operating costs. We wouldn’t survive without donations, and that’s been true for years.”
Some critics also say the Sunrise Preservation Group (SPG) would be better off if it hadn’t spent $248,000 three years ago to purchase the green space just north of the theater from Broad Street Associates LLC. As of June, SPG owed $184,600 on a five-year balloon loan due in 2013.
‘A Unique Venue’
Essentially, the 361-seat theater is a downtown Southern Pines entertainment icon with perpetual infrastructure issues.
“It’s a 113-year-old building,” Wallace says. “There has to be a constant focus on maintenance and improvement projects.”
The Roof Fund has raised about half of the $40,000 required for the project, but the other needs will remain on hold until the necessary dollars are in hand. The annual operating budget averages about $300,000.
SPG, the nonprofit that owns and operates the building, was formed in 1998 to keep the theater alive. The Arts Council of Moore County (ACMC) donated the building and transferred the theater’s operation to SPG that year.
“We gave them the building debt-free,” says ACMC Executive Director Chris Dunn, who has been with organization since 1995. “I just hope they can figure out what they need to do now. The theater is a treasure in downtown Southern Pines that we don’t want to lose, because it’s a unique venue that would be hard to replicate.”
ACMC rents the performance space to host its classical concert series, its comedy series and occasionally a youth summer theater camp.
“We made a concerted effort several years ago to move the classical concert series back to the Sunrise because of its intimacy and charm,” Dunn says. “You feel like you’re part of the performance because you’re so close to it, and the artists love being that close to the audience because you get that instant feedback.”
‘Can’t Be Replaced’
Anthony Parks, who owns The Ice Cream Parlor in downtown Southern Pines and serves on the SPG board of directors, believes that the theater’s financial difficulties can be resolved by first raising awareness.
“We don’t want people to forget how special the Sunrise is and how much is going on at the theater,” Parks says. “It can’t be replaced. Downtown would lose music, movies and live performances.”
Parks also scoffs at those who question whether SPG should have purchased the lot next door.
“The green space is not going to sink the ship,” he says. “It was important to step in and save it — important to the theater and important to the community.
“Right now, that green space holds the most outdoor events in Southern Pines. People are tagging on to our events because there’s a vibrancy.”
Wallace notes that the theater tries to keep ticket pricing reasonable despite the pressing needs.
“Most things are $25 or under, because we know there is a lot of competition in Moore County for the entertainment dollar,” she says. “We really have something to offer everybody, and we’re always looking for new things. We currently want to add ballet and live concerts.”
Wallace also lauds the 150 volunteers, from board members to ticket takers.
“There are a lot of wonderful people involved with the theater,” she says. “It’s just awesome. Everyone is a friend of the Sunrise.”
“It’s not Carnegie Hall,” he says, “but it’s got this charm and feel about it that the audience loves and that artists love.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at email@example.com.
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