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.
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.
A few of the well-known stars who have graced the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre stage:
Charles Nelson Reilly
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Currently 4 Responses
- This is terrible and shocking and so wrong that this could happen after all the Golden Apple has done for Sarasota. The Golden Apple has been a home and a family to so many local artists. The Turoff's are generous to the downtrodden, true philanthropists who have almost singlehandedly enabled so many actors to be able to call Sarasota home. No other theatre in town has provided jobs to so many local actors - not to mention the countless benefits they have spearheaded on behalf of our community. The Golden Apple is a Sarasota cultural institution. Save the Apple!!!!!!!!!
- Our family had the opportunity to make our first visit to the Golden Apple last Friday, what fun. Both of our young daughters who love theatre better than TV thought it heaven. A show with food before and it is OK to eat in your seatl What could be better. We thought our evening was entertaining and a real value. They both thought it the best part of their spring break trip which included an Os baseball game, Busch Gardensand the Ringling Museum. They are already planning their next visit this summer, please don't disappoint the children who don't live and die with electronic games or TV.
- The pressing question is: Why should Sarasota's Downtown Improvement District committee give consideration to The Golden Apple's urgent request for a small, short term loan to help them survive otherwise insurmountable loss of income due to city construction projects surrounding them?
And that prompts another question: Do fairness, common sense, tradition and community mean anything in this town anymore?
Frankly, when the Turoffs came to Sarasota, its downtown life had gone into decline. If it hadn't been for their establishing The Golden Apple in what was at the time a neighborhood bereft of cultural night-life, it's doubtful most of the planners and developers calling the shots today would have had anything to market.
It's true that the Sarasota Opera moving to the shuttered Edwards Theater, brought great things; and we are grateful for it. However, I wonder how many opera patrons would have been induced to drive at night to a deserted Five Points if the Golden Apple's success hadn't already sparked a revival there?
Forty years ago, the Turoffs invested in a part of town not just empty at night but growing sparser by day, when they renovated a shuttered former restaurant to create an exciting theater on a professional level not existing in this area before.
Many theatre graduates from USF and FSU were eager to apprentice in the trade here, working beside established actors who came to Sarasota to be directed by him, and to act along with Roberta MacDonald, (his wife), whose Broadway and other NY and regional credits were estimable (and whose talents have been applauded by Sarasota audiences ever since).
When I first drove down from Tampa to see a show, I found the Golden Apple was the only place doing business after 6 p.m. in that part of town. I marveled at them setting up shop in an area so barren after sunset. However, their enterprising spirit, faith, talent, hard work soon led to success, as their reputation rapidly grew.
Over the many years since, in addition to thousands of critically acclaimed performances, The Golden Apple has given to their community on many levels. Besides graciously acquiescing every time an arts Fair blocked off streets (thereby, parking -- causing them to cancel performances and/or lose ticket sales), they've lent their facilities to the Reading Festivals, as well as for many memorial services, charity fund-raisers, rallies and other non-profit events Such cooperation is more than a generous gesture. When you open the doors of a building that size to host free events, the operating costs are not insignificant. Yet, countless times, The Golden Apple did so, without compensation.
Now, circumstances beyond their control have forced them to ask their fellow business owners and fellow citizens, advocates and supporters of a vibrant arts community, for a little temporary assistance.
When I read in this article that Ernie Ritz (who’s been most fortunate in that his own construction company benefited by recent developments and projects in downtown Sarasota, so perhaps is a little short on empathy these days) says he's afraid that granting this small loan could open the door to hundreds of similar requests. Hundreds? IF THERE ARE EVEN ONE HUNDRED SIMILAR INSTITUTIONS, WHICH HAVE CONTRIBUTED WHAT THE GOLDEN APPLE HAS (without tax write-offs, or non-profit status) OVER FOUR DECADES, AND ARE FACING THESE SPECIFIC HARDSHIPS, LET THEM COME FORTH! Do I hear FIFTY? ..TWENTY? ... I didn't think so.
I am not in Sarasota, or anywhere near Florida, at this time, or I'd do my best to attend meetings and rally for fair play. I can only send this letter and hope my voice will be among many demanding the same.
- Please approve the loan. If it were just the project in back, you could say, NO. If it were just the project in front, you could say, NO. But, projects in the front and back AT THE SAME TIME? How could you, in good conscience, deny their request? It's not as if the Apple is looking for a handout.
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