Dunwoody city officials recently declined requests to study the possible use and operations of a theater building at Brook Run Park. Instead, they decided to determine how much it would cost to fix the deteriorating building.
City Council voted 6-1 on April 13 to seek bids on saving the unused theater building. That could mean possibly renovating the structure or building a new theater altogether.
Danny Ross, chair of the Brook Run Conservancy and a former city councilman, offered on March 9 to pay $20,000 of the $40,000 cost for a feasibility study for the project, which would include finding out how much it would cost to restore and operate the theater. The study also would determine whether residents want a theater in Brook Run Park.
On April 13, former DeKalb CEO Liane Levetan, Stage Door Players Director Robert Egizio and resident Erika Harris spoke on behalf of a theater in Brook Run Park, asking the council to approve the feasibility study.
Harris, a mother of four children, said she takes her kids to cultural activities in several surrounding cities, but nothing in Dunwoody.
“We have an opportunity to explore the potential to keep our residents here in Dunwoody and to bring others in through the possibility of creating a Brook Run Performing Arts Center,” she said.
“As a mom of children who are extremely inclined towards the stage, as a mom who believes in exposing her children to the arts, as a resident who appreciates local amenities as an opportunity to create community and culture, I fully support the idea of exploring the potential that exists in the “old theater” at Brook Run Park,” Harris said.
Levetan called serving the arts in the Dunwoody community a “tremendous asset,” and Egizio informed council members that many theatergoers shared their support for a community performing arts center in Brook Run Park.
City Councilman Denis Shortal said “time is of the essence” in saving the theater and that the city could end up spending more money if it doesn’t move quickly on the theater.
“I think this is well worth the expenditure,” Shortal said of Ross’ request the city pay $20,000 to $40,000 for a feasibility study.
He pointed to the city’s efforts to tear down a dormitory at Brook Run that cost twice as much as expected. The council voted April 13 to spend an additional $98,000 to complete demolition of the dorm.
“We are undergoing demolition by neglect,” Councilman Jim Riticher said.
City Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch argued that if the council approved the study, all of the money should come from the city, rather than a portion from the Ross family.
Both she and City Councilman John Heneghan questioned the location of a community theater or performing arts center in the park. Heneghan said he has no doubt a theater is needed in the community, but he asked about the costs to save the building.
“I would maybe advocate we step back and look at the physical questions first, like John [Heneghan] said,” Deutsch said.
City Councilman Terry Nall said he could not support the resolution. He argued the park is not the right location for a theater; that sustainability needs to be considered if a theater is to be constructed; and that the absence of the Brook Run Theater in the city’s current planning means approving a feasibility study now would be a “distraction.”
He added that parking is already difficult at the park and an indoor theater doesn’t belong in Brook Run.
“My hope is the conservancy will focus on outdoor recreation [in the park],” Nall said.