November 26, 2014
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Ocean State Theater to raise curtain in Warwick this December
SOON TO BE A THEATER: The wide open space of the garage at the former Verizon Fios Headquarters at 1245 Jefferson Blvd. will soon be converted into a 420-seat theater.

The Ocean State Theatre Company (OSTC) announced Tuesday morning that they plan to raise the curtain on a new theater at 1245 Jefferson Boulevard this year. The former Verizon Fios Headquarters is now a vacant industrial space, but Amiee Turner, producing artistic director for OSTC, hopes the venue will produce a show in the soon-to-be-theater as early as December.

“It’s very, very thrilling,” said Turner.

OSTC has been the producing entity at Matunucks’ Theatre by the Sea since re-opening in 2007. Turner said she has been looking for a way to do year-round theater in Rhode Island, and thinks Warwick will serve as the perfect location to do so.

“It’s the center of the state … and it’s so close to the station district,” she said. “It’s easy for everyone to get to. It’s ideal.”

Turner and OSTC have been looking at buildings in various cities in Rhode Island for the past three years. When a potential deal for a building in East Greenwich fell through last year, OSTC set their sights to Warwick. Steve Soscia, the building’s owner, helped OSTC with the application for a special use permit for the building.

What was formerly a Verizon Fios Headquarters zoned light industrial will soon be a bustling arts hub.

“This is incredibly good news,” said Mayor Scott Avedisian on Tuesday morning. “This is a fantastic development.”

Avedisian said the building’s close proximity to the expanding Station District could mean great things for Warwick.

“It does tie into a lot of positive development for the city,” he said. “We’ve got the station development down the street. We’re trying to redevelop the whole area, and this is an ancillary development that adds to everything going on here.”

Avedisian referenced data from a 2010 Theatre Communications Group survey that said non-profit theaters, like OSTC, contributed $1.9 billion to the national economy. In addition to the economic benefits, Avedisian said the new theater is a promising cultural development, too.

“The arts are a public good,” he said.

Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, said the new theater would undoubtedly bring people and business to the mainly industrial stretch of Jefferson Blvd.

“This will, I believe, over time, recast this area,” he said. “If it’s a place that a person wants to go to, other businesses will crop up over time. This will be another tool in the toolkit of making this a destination.”

Renovations at the more than 21,000-square-foot building will begin next month. Turner said the process would be expedited because no demolition is required. The multi-million dollar project will be phased in over the next two to three years. Karen Kessler, spokeswoman for OSTC, said the company has received significant help from Soscia, and has also secured financing from Pawtucket Credit Union. OSTC will use operating revenue to cover part of the costs and will launch what Kessler calls an “aggressive” campaign to gain support from the Rhode Island community.

The theater itself will seat roughly 425, and Turner hopes to have it completed in time to stage a holiday show this December.

“It’s very ambitious,” she said of the timeframe. But Turner isn’t making any promises yet, and said the December date is still tentative.

The building will also hold a costume and props shop, administrative offices, a rehearsal hall and dressing rooms. Because the theater will be an Actor’s Equity, or union theater, Turner expects to hire out-of-state actors. Housing them will be an issue she’ll tackle in the future, though she said she hopes to bring permanent residents to the state.

“We hope to create more Rhode Islanders through our year-round job opportunities,” she said.

As for whether or not OSTC will remain the producing entity at Theatre by the Sea, Turner said negotiations with Bill Hanney, the theater’s owner, are still underway.

“It’s our intention [to stay at Theater by the Sea],” said Turner. “We’re all working towards the same goal.”

Turner hopes Warwick will become a sister location to Theatre by the Sea in Matunuck. They plan to offer children’s programming and classes, as well as performances throughout the fall, winter and spring.

“It’s always something we’ve wanted to do but couldn’t do at Matunuck,” she said.

At Tuesday’s press conference, the OSTC board, city officials and members of the Chamber of Commerce alike were buzzing with excitement over the arrival of a new arts venue in Warwick.

“We’ve also been embraced by the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce,” said Turner. “We feel very welcomed. We look forward to a long, long life here in Warwick.”


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