A message to our community about our future
Update on March 3, 2017:
Seattle Opera is saddened by the depiction that we have not given Teatro ZinZanni enough time to plan for their future. A second lease extension in 2017 is not a reasonable or feasible request if we want our own nonprofit arts organization to be able to continue operating in 2019.
The future of Seattle Opera hinges on receiving 100-percent of the sale proceeds at the end of this month, March 31, 2017.
As a nonprofit, we rely on generous donations from our supporters, and as our fellow nonprofit employees know, the reality of working for a company that exists to serve the community means that finances always hang in a more delicate balance than in the for-profit world Teatro ZinZanni inhabits.
With that said, Seattle Opera needs 100% of the sale proceeds on March 31 to continue to exist – anything less, and we will become homeless ourselves. The lease for the administrative building we have rented for years in South Lake Union has a hard end-date in 2018, and the sale of 222 Mercer Street is crucial to us moving forward with a new space at the site of Mercer Arena. This is a plan ZinZanni knew about when it first rented from us, and a plan which our generous community has passionately supported with their dollars, time, and energy. Without starting construction of our new building now, it will not be possible for us to rehearse, build costumes and props, or create performances for presentation at McCaw Hall. It will not be possible for us to bring opera to diverse communities across Washington State through our education programs. It will not be possible for us to continue, period.
Teatro ZinZanni is not aware of the specifics of the construction financing for our new space, therefore the suggestion that the offer we declined this week would be enough for us to get started is mere speculation on their part, not fact. For the past 22 months, we have done nothing but convey our sale timeline and deadlines to Teatro ZinZanni.
We are disappointed with Teatro ZinZanni’s statement that they offered fair market value for 222 Mercer Street. We would have loved to be able to sell the parcel to Teatro ZinZanni but what they offered was just over half of what the site is under contract to be sold for. It would not have provided the capital we need to secure our future, and construct the new home we need.
We have read your emails, Facebook comments, and Tweets, and we hear what a painful situation this is for arts lovers in Seattle, and for the 106 Teatro ZinZanni staff members affected by this situation. As much as we wish we could have continued to make accommodations for our neighbor, at the end of the day, our responsibility is to ensure our own 600 artists, staff, and contractors still have a place to work, and that our organization has a future.
Message on February 28, 2017:
Dear Seattle Opera fans, customers, and community members:
Seattle Opera has been working for 11 years to create a new civic home where we can rehearse, create, and build our art, adjacent to where we perform at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Now, that vision is becoming a reality through our project Seattle Opera at the Center. Demolition has begun next door to McCaw Hall, at the former Mercer Arena site. In addition, we have another property at 222 Mercer Street which is scheduled to be sold on March 31, 2017, the proceeds of which will help to fund our new civic home.
Located across the street from McCaw Hall, the 222 Mercer Street property has been the temporary home for Teatro ZinZanni since 2006. You may have read or heard about Teatro ZinZanni in the press or social media this past month, and we want to take the opportunity to write to you, our valued supporters, about the importance of this sale moving forward, and how it relates to Seattle Opera's future.
While the announcement of our property sale is an exciting milestone, we find ourselves at the center of a controversy that is not our making.
The success of the Seattle Opera at the Center Campaign for our new civic home hinges on closing the property sale on March 31, 2017. We have already extended the lease with Teatro ZinZanni once from January 31, 2017 to March 15, 2017. We have carefully considered and discussed how we might further assist Teatro ZinZanni but at the end of the day, none of these scenarios provided us with the same financial security of closing the property sale on March 31, 2017. We must have 100% of the sale funds at the end of the month in order to continue with our own project and not see additional cost increases. Anything less than 100% would put our own future in peril, and we can’t do that.
We are saddened by the depiction that Seattle Opera is not giving Teatro ZinZanni enough time to relocate to a new, yet undisclosed, home. That is simply not accurate and in making this announcement, we also want to correct some misinformation.
- In 2000 the Kreielsheimer Foundation gifted the property at 222 Mercer Street to Seattle Opera with the intention that Seattle Opera would build on the site or sell the parcel to pay for a new home elsewhere.
- Seattle Opera leased the site to the privately-owned dinner theater in 2006 while evaluating our own long-term facility needs.
- From our first discussions about leasing the site, Teatro ZinZanni knew that Seattle Opera would either build on the site or sell the parcel to pay for a new home elsewhere.
- In 2008, we signed a lease with the City of Seattle to redevelop the condemned Mercer Arena site, and executed that lease in 2014.
- For the past 22 months, Seattle Opera has been working to sell the property at fair market value to substantially fund the construction of our new civic home.
- In April 2015, as a tenant, Teatro ZinZanni was given the chance to demonstrate that they could purchase the property at fair market value but unfortunately, they were unable to do so. At that time, Seattle Opera communicated its fiduciary responsibility to sell the site at market value and that having a clear site was inevitable.
- In November 2015, Teatro ZinZanni was given a one-year lease extension to January 31, 2017. In the fall of 2016, Teatro ZinZanni advertised a performance run and sold tickets for shows scheduled beyond their January 31, 2017 lease termination date.
- Although at some cost to Seattle Opera, we extended the lease to March 15, 2017 to allow Teatro ZinZanni time to finish the performance run and clear the site. In that extension, Teatro ZinZanni specifically agreed to remove all of its property by the end of the lease.
Recent public relations efforts would paint the picture of a large organization that is not sympathetic to its tenant. Rather, Seattle Opera knows exactly the time and effort it takes to locate a site and move an organization.
Many people may think we operate entirely out of McCaw Hall. But, as you may know, our two rehearsal spaces, costume department, props shop, and technical and administrative offices are all housed in a rented space in South Lake Union – and our lease has a hard end date of 2018. Without a space to do our work and prepare for the great art going on stage at McCaw Hall, we will simply not be able to exist.
Of course, we have empathy with artists and staff of Teatro ZinZanni. However, if we don't move into our new facility on time, it jeopardizes the jobs of our own 600 artists, employees, and contractors. Additionally, it could create financial strains for Seattle Symphony and McCaw Hall who rely on our performances as part of their business models.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about this crucial step for the future of Seattle Opera. We appreciate the support you’ve shown us throughout the years, as well as the confidence you have in our company. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. You can learn more about this project at seattleopera.org/atthecenter.
Photo © NBBJ, Illustration by MOTYV