The Elden Street Players aren't going anywhere.
The future for the local acting group was secured after ESP announced last week that a group of investors — including their organization — have pooled their resources to purchase the Industrial Strength Theater, the local stage that has been home to the troupe since its inception in 1989. The theater will now be owned by Friends of Elden Street Players, LLC, and managed by the ESP.
Until last week, the fate of the theater, which was renovated into a stage over the years by ESP, was unsettled after the owner of the building, Atlantic Realty Companies, Inc., said that it would be looking to sell it to a permanent owner. Prior to that time, the Town of Herndon had rented the theater on a month-to-month basis to be used primarily by the ESP and some community organizations and programs.
The finalization of the deal was a relief for ESP president and Herndon resident Jeff Boatright.
"It was a huge success," Boatright said. "Now we're capable of conducting our business and putting on our performances without the fear of losing our theater."
THE MOVE to purchase the theater independently came after the Town of Herndon declined requests from ESP to enter into an agreement to split the purchase of the two units that make up the theater — one for storage and the other for the stage — in October, according to Boatright.
"When it became clear to us that the town was not going to budge on this, we knew that we had to do something," he said.
So in November, ESP identified four to five "key" investors and several smaller ones, pooled its personal bank account, and made a move to purchase the unit that contained the theater from the owner, according to Boatright. At first, they had tried to just purchase the unit containing the theater, but had to abandon that idea shortly, as Atlantic Realty Companies, Inc., did not want to split the two units up, Boatright added.
In the end, the investors purchased the two units for a little more than $800,000.
While the group will be renting out the storage unit, made possible by an allowance from the town to use its "Hands, Inc." building downtown for storage, its new monthly payments will now be much higher, Boatright said. Those will be slightly offset as the group will move to lease the former storage unit to a third party. Boatright added that he hoped that ticket prices will not have to be raised from their current adult price of $15 and student price of $12, but could not be sure what would happen.
But the purchase couldn't have happened without support of the town, he said. An arrangement with the Town of Herndon to receive what was once its rent payment of approximately $33,000 in the form of a grant to pay for key operating costs is currently being worked out with officials. In return, the Industrial Strength Theater will still be used by Herndon programs and other community groups like the Town Square Singers.
"It represented securing our future for years to come," Boatright said. "We're paying a more considerable price now for the Industrial Strength Theater, but we feel more comfortable."
FOR COUNCIL MEMBER Harlon Reece, who has acted in performances put on by the ESP, sealing the future of the acting troupe in Herndon has been a benefit for the town.
"It not only provides an amenity for our residents but it also attracts people to town who spend a little money when they go to dinner," Reece said. "The group has really contributed to the quality of life in Herndon. We want to have a complete community and that means having a vibrant cultural arts presence."
Given the cloudy immediate future for a downtown Cultural Arts Center, recently set back due to a lack of bids for a public-private development agreement, the arrangement worked out by ESP was the best possible result, said council member Bill Tirrell.
"Under the very best circumstances, they needed a theater for at least the next three years before anything with an arts center can be done," Tirrell said. "It couldn't have worked out any better for them and for the Town of Herndon and the residents."
While the purchase of the theater by ESP doesn't mean that the group has given up on its struggle for a downtown Cultural Arts Center, it means a permanence for theater in Herndon for the next several years, according to Boatright.
"I still have hope that we'll see [a Cultural Arts Center], but quite frankly there's nothing I've seen go forward in some time," he said. "So what we've done in purchasing the Industrial Strength Theater is the closest that we'll get to a Cultural Arts Center in Herndon for quite awhile."
"But at least now we know we'll always have a theater."