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Clear Space to abandon Rehoboth Ave. expansion

Katie Tabeling

The Clear Space Theater Company has abandoned its plans to build a new facility on Rehoboth Avenue after a year long court battle. | PHOTO COURTESY CLEAR SPACE

REHOBOTH BEACH — After a yearlong legal battle, the Clear Space Theatre Company has decided to abandon its plans for a new theater in downtown Rehoboth Beach and may be looking to leave city limits for a new location.

The Clear Space board of directors voted to end its efforts to build a two-building performance space on 413, 415 and 417 Rehoboth Ave. Clear Space Executive Director Wesley Paulson confirmed that the nonprofit was starting discussions with real estate brokers to sell the property.

“It’s difficult to see this dream end after working on it for four years,” Paulson told the Delaware Business Times. “We will stay in the Rehoboth area, but it’s not likely there will be a site in town that would address the resident’s concerns with parking and traffic. So we will have to look outside of the city for the next location.”

Paulson added that the theater’s landlord was content to keep them as tenants at a former church on Baltimore Avenue for the time being. It’s unclear when Clear Space will move, as the nonprofit just made the decision to look elsewhere.

“We’re not looking to be on the Route 1 corridor right now, but the idea is to stay close to Rehoboth Beach and our current location,” he said.

In 2018, Clear Space unveiled plans for the first time for its new theater and a cafe to cater to its growing audience. But the plans for the 25,600-square-foot building were scuttled over parking issues, and the performing arts nonprofit decided to revise its plans.

Finally, in 2021, Clear Space received approval for two structures: a 256-seat traditional theater and a black box theater called “The Spotlight Theater.” While the Spotlight, a 50-seat theater, would be used for rehearsal, Paulson said it would be possible to use it for more intimate shows.

But when neighbors lobbied city officials to reverse course on its approval — twice — Clear Space filed suit against the city of Rehoboth Beach to overturn the decision. The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 13, and had been slowly making its way through the  Delaware Superior Court,

“When the board considered the cost of litigation, the mortgage of the property, as well as the rising costs to build the facility, as well as the oversight from concerned citizens, it became clearer that the costs may be too high to keep going,” Paulson said.

Clear Space bought the property for $2.1 million. Two years earlier, it was predicted the building construction would cost $8.8 million — but that was before the rising costs of inflation had hit the construction industry across the world.

“All proceeds of the sale will be set aside for the capital campaign for a future location. We just got close to raising a million dollars for this,” he said.

In addition, Clear Space will not be starting over from scratch. The architecture design, as well as designs for audience seating and stage rigging, can be reused for the next location.

“We are still here, and we’re very much alive and at home. We will continue to serve our mission to inspire audiences, artists, and students through performances and classes,” Paulson said. “We plan to be in [the] Rehoboth [area] for years to come.”

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