On Nov. 15, Whirligig Stage announced on its Facebook page that the City of Greenville advised the performance arts center to cancel multiple upcoming shows that are not in the category plays or movies.
Whirligig Stage operates under the zoning laws of “theater, movies or dramas including outside facilities,” which allows them to offer plays, musicals, improv and comedy theater shows, according to the Brock Letchworth, the Public Information Officer for the City of Greenville.
Recently, the city was notified that Whirligig had been holding “club-like activities,” which are not allowed under their zoning ordinance, according to a City of Greenville information officer. The events are being held by third parties that are renting the facility from Whirligig.
Renting out their facility is not permitted, according to Whirligigs current zoning ordinance. All activities must be hosted by the Whirligig business itself, not through the rental of their property.
Brock Letchworth said, “The City has issued a Cease and Desist notice for Whirligig to end all DJ and club-related activities immediately,”
Connor Gerney, senior theatre arts major at East Carolina University, rented out Whirligig stage for former projects for his undergraduate research project. He said the location acted as perfect stage for his original play.
“I rented out Whirligig last February for my Undergraduate Research into Creative Activities Grant project,” Gerney said. “I was awarded the URCA grant by ECU to help me produce an original play I wrote and directed, called ‘Twilight Boy’.”
Gerney said a close friend of his planned to have her URCA grant project held at Whirligig Stage in late Nov., but it had to be moved to a new performance space last minute due to the zoning issues Whirligig is facing.
Letchworth said the zoning issues were brought up more as a concern by The City of Greenville and there is no plan to shut down the performance center any time soon.
“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 is demonstrated by our $20,000 startup grant provided to the Whirligig Stage as part of the Small Business Plan Competition,” The City of Greenville said in an official statement.
Executive Director for Whirligig Stage, Jason Coale, said he helped open Whirligig three years ago after they won a small business project and said he hopes the zoning issue will be resolved soon.
Coale said Whirligig submitted a detailed business plan and financial figures to the City of Greenville three years ago, with descriptions of the rentals and events they planned to do. Recently, they have received complaints from neighbors who were “disappointed” in the events being held at the venue.
“It was our belief that the category we were zoned into was inclusive of all of these events,” Coale said. “Comedy, music concerts, poetry readings, dance shows, variety shows. All of these events we feel are appropriate to be presented in a theater.”
Coale said he hopes the matter is resolved soon, as refunding tickets and freezing all revenue is very dangerous for a business such as Whirligig that is “forced to live on the fringe.”
As of now, all future events scheduled at Whirligig besides plays and movies have been canceled through January.
“I hope this will all be worked out quickly so that Jason and his company can get back to business and continue to bring art to Greenville,” Gerney said.