Workshop Theatre faces an unexpected challenge of finding a temporary home in a hurry.
The 45-year-old community theater in downtown Columbia was caught off guard by the University of South Carolina’s plan to start building its new law school next year where the theater now sits.
“That’s a shocker,” theater board president Jack Jansen said. “It’s something I hoped wouldn’t happen.”
Workshop plans to build its future home on a 1.5-acre tract adjoining Elmwood Cemetery to replace the site at Bull and Gervais streets it has leased since 1977.
It’s not ready to go there yet because fundraising for a project that may cost up to $6 million has been slow in the lingering economic slowdown, Jansen said.
The theater has shows scheduled at its current facility through May and is starting to plan for more after that.
But uncertainty about when it may be forced to move “is playing a little havoc for us,” Jansen said.
Theater leaders didn’t know of USC’s timetable until The State newspaper reported it Wednesday.
Developing a fallback plan for an alternate site for the theater has been difficult amid USC’s “on and off” progress in raising money over 14 years for the $75 million law school, Jansen said.
With USC officials wanting to start work in less than a year, Workshop’s search for a temporary home takes on an urgency.
Finding an interim facility won’t be easy, Jansen said, since a theater requires features like an auditorium and an area with high ceilings for stage lights.
The theater owns its building, but not the land on which it sits.
Workshop pays $25 a month in rent. That’s a favor arranged for a then-fledgling troupe when its landlord was the Columbia Museum of Art, which was once next door. Workshop’s lease expires in mid-2017, but it can be canceled on a few months’ notice.
USC bought the block after the museum moved to Main Street in 1998.
Jansen is crossing his fingers that a savior surfaces for the theater.
Meanwhile, he said, “I’ll be buying more Powerball tickets.”
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.