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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 18, 2010 5 years ago

Golden Apple could close

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by: Robin Roy City Editor

After four decades of surviving recessions, faltering economies and changing demographics, the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre may have reached the end of the line.

“It’s been our life for 40 years,” said Robert Turoff, Golden Apple’s owner. “But we’re facing a perfect storm.”
Most theater patrons park in the empty lot in the back of the building. But that lot is the future site of the Palm Avenue parking garage. Construction on the parking garage begins in a couple of weeks and won’t be complete until December.

A lengthy construction project will shut down Pineapple Avenue in front of the theater as well. The Five Points roundabout is scheduled to begin construction in July and end by Thanksgiving.

Add to that a downturn in the economy, which has cost the Golden Apple about 30% of its regular business, and the institution is unsure of its future.

“It’s essentially going to put us out of business,” Turoff said. “We don’t have a donor base.”

Not knowing where his customers are going to park worries Turoff. He used to own the lot on which the parking garage will sit, but he said after the city begged him to take over the contract on the lot in 1990, he allowed it to do so.

“That was a mistake,” he said with a small smile on his face. “So, we’ve had to deal with the rollercoaster of projects on that site.”

During several failed attempts to develop that Palm Avenue property, the Golden Apple stopped booking shows, anticipating that construction would take away its parking area. But when those projects ultimately were defeated, Turoff had to scramble to find entertainment at the last minute.

“We’re not unhappy with the garage, as long as we can get through this time,” he said.

Last week, Turoff asked the board of the Downtown Improvement District if it might offer him a loan to keep him going during the construction.

“It was not easy to come with hat in hand,” he said. “In 40 years, I’ve never had to do it.”

He said he needed $12,000 per month for a year, or a total of $144,000.

The board’s reaction was mixed.

“I think we should take a hard look and find a way to say ‘yes,’” said DID board member Andrew Foley.
But DID Vice Chairman Ernie Ritz was not as receptive.

“This opens the door for hundreds of people coming to us (to ask for money),” he said.

The DID collects taxes from property owners in the downtown district, and its purpose is to spend that money in ways that improve the district. Turoff is one of the district’s property owners.

“Ernie was concerned that everyone would ask for help, but no one will be affected by (the construction) as much as we are,” Turoff said. “The opera season will be over by the time the work starts.”

Turoff has had the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s building for sale for about two years.

Property owner Mark Kauffman supports Turoff’s request for a loan, and he told the DID that if the building doesn’t sell, then Turoff’s loan should be forgiven.

“What I really don’t like is you don’t feel like you have to pay it back,” Ritz told Turoff.

After the DID meeting, Turoff said he always intended to repay the loan.

“If we get through this year, then we would do a three-year payback process,” he said. “But if we sell the building, we would pay it back sooner.”

If the building does sell, Turoff hopes that the new owners would let the Golden Apple lease its space.

Turoff’s wife, Roberta, ran through a long list of contributions to the community the Golden Apple has performed over the years, including raising tens of thousands of dollars for the local Salvation Army, Haitian earthquake victims, Southeast Asian tsunami victims and supporting Sarasota events such as the Reading Festival and arts festivals.

“How do you measure the worth to Sarasota?” she asked.

Turoff explained how the Golden Apple helped change the face of downtown.

“We took a chance on Sarasota,” he said. “I get a little disappointed when people say other businesses transformed downtown Sarasota. I guess we’ve been here so long, people forget.”

Turoff has delivered details to the DID on how the money would be used if a loan was approved (see box). The board plans to further discuss the request.

“Letting you close would be a loss for downtown,” said Foley.

BOX
Use of DID loan

The owners of the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre have explicit plans on how they would use a $144,000 loan.
• Advertising to tell people they’re still open and where to park during construction.
• Licensing fees for the shows they present.
• Cleanup costs after the construction is complete.
• Valet parking to help with the loss of public parking spaces.

BOX
Starring role

A few of the well-known stars who have graced the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre stage:
Betty Buckley
Sid Ceasar
John Carradine
Jack Cassidy
Broderick Crawford
John Davidson
Morgan Fairchild
Gale Gordon
Dick Hyman
Bruno Kirby
Charles Nelson Reilly
Tommy Tune

Contact Robin Roy at rroy@yourobserver.com.
 

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