Teatro ZinZanni's lease at 222 Mercer, property that is owned by Seattle Opera, expires on March 15. Zinzanni's founder and artistic director Norm Langill was hoping to negotiate a deal between ZinZanni, Seattle Opera, and Washington Holdings, the developer who bought the property in January 2016, that would allow ZinZanni to hold onto the space longer, but that has not panned out, The Stranger has just learned.
In a letter sent to members of Teatro ZinZanni's community—supporters, ticket buyers, friends—Langill writes that ZinZanni "continues to work on promising options to secure both temporary and future locations" in Seattle. "We'll mount our final show at 222 Mercer on Sunday, March 5," the statement says. After that, the circus' antique spiegeltent will be packed up and stored for the foreseeable future.
Yesterday, people holding tickets for Teatro ZinZanni's next scheduled show, Joker’s Wild, received cancellation notices via e-mail. Box office manager and Golden Tassel Club concierge Veliere Maurice Crump says refunds will be issued beginning next week.
Teatro ZinZanni's San Francisco property is coming along as planned and will be opening 2018 or early 2019.
ZinZanni employs 106 people, including cooks, service staff, designers, performers, and administrators. A spokesperson told me "a specific group of employees" will be retained to help with the process of moving out of the building, but then those people will be let go afterward. Another key group will be retained for a longer period of time to assist with possible transition to a new building. I asked for a ballpark figure of how many people will to lose their jobs in the coming months, but Teatro ZinZanni declined to answer.
ZinZanni's transition to a new location is clouded with uncertainty. Langill mentions only one concrete alternative location in the letter: "At present, we are pursuing long-term lease negotiations for an exciting new site," he writes. "As you know, however, Seattle is a hyper-competitive real estate market, and this location has an unsolicited purchase offer on it from another buyer." Unless that buyer withdraws their bid for some reason, that location won't be an option.
Most of Langill's letter blames ZinZanni's current woes on the Seattle Opera's refusal to accept an offer from Washington Holdings. (Follow that link if you want the nitty-gritty according to ZinZanni's point of view. Or click here if you'd like to read the story I wrote covering the dispute.) Then, after mentioning that "exciting new site" I described earlier, Langill closes with another jab at Seattle Opera: "Without the extension of a few more months from the Opera, our transition is more difficult."
The day before Langill issued this letter, Seattle Opera sent out to its newsletter subscribers an explanation about “Information Regarding 222 Mercer Street Site Sale." While Seattle Opera planned to inform its audience about the sale of the property as a matter of course, community response to TZ's relocation troubles led general director Aidan Lang to acknowledge their position "at the center of a controversy that is not our making."
"We are saddened by the depiction that Seattle Opera is not giving Teatro ZinZanni enough time to relocate to a new, yet undisclosed, home," Lang wrote. "That is simply not accurate and in making this announcement, we also want to correct some misinformation."
Lang's letter goes on to list a timeline of communication between the two organizations. Again, get caught up on their longstanding dispute here.
It must be noted: The opera has its own financial responsibilities and its own hard move-out date. Currently, Seattle Opera keeps its props department, rehearsal space, and administrative offices in two buildings in South Lake Union. The lease on those buildings expires in 2018 (and Lang tells me via e-mail it expires "without renewal"), and so this spring they need to pay for and move into a newly refurbished Mercer Arena before that happens. They need all proceeds from the sale of 222 Mercer in order to complete that transition, as Lang explains in the newsletter:
The success of the Seattle Opera at the Center Campaign for our new civic home hinges on closing the property sale on March 31, 2017. We have carefully considered and discussed how we might further assist Teatro ZinZanni but at the end of the day, none of these scenarios provided us with the same financial security of closing the property sale on March 31, 2017. Seattle Opera expects that Teatro ZinZanni will vacate this property at the end of its current lease extension, March 15, 2017.
A spokesperson from Seattle Opera's capital project says that several elected officials contacted Seattle Opera on behalf of Teatro ZinZanni "to help find a solution to this unfortunate scenario." Those reps include State Senator Reuven Carlyle and State Representatives Noel Frame and Gael Tarleton.
All the scenarios they proposed, however—including an $8 million offer from Washington Holdings to Seattle Opera that Teatro ZinZanni hoped would allow them to stay on the property a while longer—would have delayed the sale of the property. "Such proposals are not feasible given the need to have 100 percent of the property sale proceeds at the end of this month," the spokesperson says.