Future of Whirligig Stage uncertain after zoning issues


GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) The fate of a community theater is in limbo.

“This community and family that I have come to love over the last year and a half would go away,” said Gabrielle Brant-Freeman, parent. “I will do whatever it takes to keep this theater here.”

About a week ago, an issue over the calendar of events at Whirligig Stage was brought to Greenville city leaders.

Citizens raised concerns the Whirligig Stage was holding events that were outside of what space is zoned for, including renting the space to third party vendors.

“The code is not very detailed and specifically the part that we are all very focused on right now is an interpretation of the category in which we are zoned, which reads ‘Theater: movie or drama,'” said Jason Coale, executive director.

When Coale reached out to the city for advice on how to solve the problem, they advised him to cancel all events space isn’t zoned for.

“It is our belief that a majority of events that we hold are within the description of events that the city has advised us to cancel. I cannot say what events we will be able to hold between now and February,” said Coale.

Events like kid’s musicals, jazz concerts, and murder mystery dinners, which bring in a substantial amount of revenue, are no longer allowed.

“There’s no way a community theater can survive in this uptown district with the costs that exist here if they aren’t allowed to somehow bring in some revenue,” said Jennifer Thielen, parent.

Parents tell WNCT shows at the Whirligig Stage bring people to other areas of downtown too.

“We have to be up here for rehearsals. We spend a lot of time in the rest of the downtown area, and that’s not something I was doing a whole lot before this. I wasn’t coming and hanging next door at Pitt Street,” said Thielen.

And without their staple events, parents and patrons of Whirligig don’t know how a place like this can carry on.

“It would be a huge blow to all of the parents and all of the children. I don’t know what we would do, but it would be very sad,” said Brant-Freeman.

WNCT was not able to reach the planning office for an interview.

The City of Greenville did release a statement:

The City of Greenville is not trying to shut down the Whirligig Stage; we are working with the owner to resolve a zoning concern.  The City is very supportive of the arts which are demonstrated by our $20,000 startup grant provided to the Whirligig Stage as part of the Small Business Plan competition. We are working with ownership to resolve the issue.

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