Get thee to a cannery!

A summer Shakespeare series is being planned at the site of the former cannery building in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square.

Organizers of the event received a warm reception Tuesday from the Santa Rosa City Council as they outlined their plan for 12 open air performances of Romeo and Juliet inside the propped up brick cannery walls on Third Street.

"It sounds like a wonderful project," Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom said.

The owner of the 11-acre site, developer John Stewart, tried for years to construct a variety of transit-oriented projects on the property, including a food and wine complex, fitness center, and hundreds of units of housing. But he gave up last year after city officials questioned whether the latest plan to begin construction of housing for low-income seniors made sense.

Stewart has since struck a two-year deal with a theater outfit called Shakespeare in the Cannery. The production is a collaboration between local theater veteran David Lear, who has worked at the 6th Street Playhouse, and Martin Hamilton, the director of the nearby Arlene Francis Center.

"It just seems like a perfect spot to have a Shakespeare production," said attorney Chris Costin, who is helping the group with logistics.

He joked that because of the condition of the site they almost named the project "Shakespeare in the Ruins."

A large amount of work already has been done to clean up the long-vacant property, Costin said.

The city has yet to issue a permit for the production. It has sought additional information about the project, including the safety of the brick walls of the former cannery that have been propped up since 2006. The group has submitted engineering data to demonstrate their stability, Costin said.

The production is now seeking funding from the city to help it with advertising. It has requested $5,000. City staff suggested approving $2,382, but city council members expressed a desire to increase funding for the production and two other area projects, Summer Nights Santa Rosa and the West End Farmers Market.

Councilman Jake Ours strongly supported fully funding grants to eight community organizations city-wide totaling just over $98,000.

"This is the stuff we should be spending money on," Ours said. "Little bits of money, but it's all going to come back, probably tenfold, to the city."

The council will revisit the funding requests next week on the second day of its budget study session.

Rehearsals for the production are underway. The production is scheduled to begin July 11 and run on weekend evenings through Aug. 16. Seating will be capped at 200 people per performance, with space for blankets and lawnchairs. The group has set up a Facebook page at

Staff Writer Kevin McCallum can be reached at 521-5207 or at On Twitter @citybeater.