While the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation continues to raise funds for renovations that will help the iconic theater meet federal Americans With Disabilities Act requirements, theater officials this week lobbied the Sonoma City Council for an extension to the lease agreement with the City that, when inked in December of 2016, held the theater to a two-year fundraising deadline.
The terms of that lease required theater management to make physical improvements to the 86-year-old building, bringing it into compliance with the standards of the ADA, upgrades management believes are important, but simply cannot afford to make yet.
“Anywhere that people can go, handicapped people need to be able to go, too,” said Foundation president Jocelyn Vick.
At its Monday, Oct. 22 meeting the Sonoma City Council was set to consider a 12-month extension of the fundraising deadline for ADA improvements or, as an alternative, to terminate the theater’s lease. Though the council’s deliberations were slated for after press time, it was expected to approve the extension, based on staff recommendation.
The new lease terms would give the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation until January 2020 to determine whether the nonprofit can raise the funds needed to bring the building into ADA compliance – and then to January 2021 to actually complete the ADA improvements. “Staff believes that the Foundation is making significant progress in developing the plans necessary to renovate the theater,” read the staff report issued prior to the City Council’s Oct. 22 meeting.
Roger Rhoten, executive director of the Sebastiani Theatre, expressed confidence the Foundation would meet the new deadline, if adopted. “We’ve been doing a feasibility study, and all the things you do prior to doing a fundraiser,” Rhoten said. “We’re trying to do this right, and it’s a pretty involved process.”
While any 86-year-old building would likely present ample opportunity for modernization, it’s the theater’s restrooms, specifically, that fail to comply with ADA code. Simply retrofitting the existing lavatories isn’t an option, according to Rhoten. “We can’t remodel the bathrooms without seriously compromising the historic look of the place, and nobody wants to see that happen,” said Rhoten. “Everybody wants to see the theater succeed.”
To that end, the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation’s board of directors has developed a larger, more ambitious longer-term vision. In a letter to the City Council, Vick detailed the board’s plans.
“In addition to ADA compliant restrooms, seating, food service, stage access, entrance and exiting, our plan includes a multi-purpose room where classes and meetings can be held, and where performers can prepare to go on stage,” Vick wrote, adding that a second screening room, a small catering kitchen, offices, storage and dressing rooms are planned as well.
Local architecture firm RossDrulisCusenbery, Inc., has been contracted to produce plans for both the renovation and new construction.
But major builds cost major money, of course, and the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation is facing a classic chicken-egg conundrum. Without the successful completion of a fundraising campaign, the scope of plans for the theater cannot be determined, Vick and Rhoten told the Index-Tribune. Without cementing their scope of plan, the depth and breadth of the fundraising campaign is difficult to plot.
The only thing that remains absolutely certain, it seems, is that preservation of Sonoma’s “downtown jewel,” as Vick calls it, is a priority. The building is iconic in the downtown, and serves as a de facto clubhouse for the community.
This story originally appeared on SonomaNews.com.