The curtain is coming down on Raven Theater Windsor after two years, ending a relatively short-lived run for the only performing arts venue in town.
The announcement this week that the Windsor facility will close at the end of the year caught some theater boosters by surprise and cast doubt on the future viability of staging plays in Sonoma County’s youngest town.
The Raven Players’ live stage production of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” running from Dec. 4 to 20, will be the last at the Windsor location.
Organizers said they weren’t able to raise the money needed to buy the site they are leasing, which would have allowed the shows to go on.
“The economics of a theater are such that you lose money, no matter what. The biggest thing you can get rid of is the overhead of paying rent,” said Tom Brand, executive director of the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg.
The Windsor playhouse opened in January 2014 as a second location for Healdsburg’s long-established Raven Theater, which will not be affected by the closure of the Windsor facility, according to Richard Norgrove, president of the board that operates both theaters.
Shows in Healdsburg, including Raven Players productions, will continue as scheduled, he said in a statement issued Wednesday.
Brand said when the Raven leased the old cinder-block church in 2013 and transformed it into a 100-seat theater “we knew we needed to purchase the building and worked out an option to purchase the property.”
But after almost 30 months of searching for a funding source, or benefactors, they exhausted the possibilities.
Even though the lease runs until the end of 2016, he said it made no sense to continue to scramble to raise the rent every month along with the cost of insurance, utilities and advertising.
“To raise the money to keep open another month is really hard,” he said. “The last thing people want to give money to is salaries and rent.”
Windsor residents involved with the theater since its inception didn’t foresee the closing.
“In my mind, everything was moving along. Nothing led me to think it was going to close anytime soon,” said Karen Alves, who was on the Windsor Raven’s operating committee.
“It felt like we weren’t being kept in the loop — what was being discussed and happening,” said Laurie Shimizu, a Windsor business owner who also is on the committee.
Alves said she thought improvements were being delayed to the building on Windsor River Road because the theater might be moving.
Indeed, the town was looking at the possibility of relocating the Raven to the former fire station site a few blocks to the west and building a new theater venue as part of public-private venture, said Town Manager Linda Kelly.
The town owns the land and the idea was to “partner with them to provide a long-term lease where they would build a new theater,” she said.
The town, with a population of 26,801 according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, was also motivated to relocate the Raven because hotel developers were considering the theater site and an adjoining parcel.
But Kelly said one factor complicating the move is that the town is studying the possibility of building a roundabout at the intersection next to the old fire station, at Windsor and Windsor River roads, and some of the site would be needed for right of way.