Venues may have gone dark due to the pandemic, but like any Greek tragedy, the drama happens off stage. In 2017, Carmel handed over the running of the 100-plus year-old Forest Theater, a property the city owns, to Sunset Cultural Center Inc., the nonprofit which also runs the Sunset Center—the 700-plus seater, state-of-the-art performance venue, through a 30-year-lease agreement.
But since the takeover, a frequent renter of the grounds, the Forest Theater Guild, has had qualms over how their new landlords ran things, mostly by cutting back the dates they were allowed to hold plays and other money-making programs. One instance, came on the verge of the Forest Theater's 110th anniversary in 2019, the Guild was informed by SCC they would only be allotted 12 dates to host their annual Films in the Forest Program.
The most recent dispute was in late 2019, when the SCC did not give the Guild dates for their 2020 season. The Guild wanted to involve the city in managing the crisis, but come spring of 2020, the pandemic ironed out all the details. All performances venues and crowd-gathering activities were closed until further notice.
The pandemic appears to be the push that came to shove for SCC, who after talks with the city, wants out of their contract. City staff has now recommended circulating requests for proposals for other organizations to run the venue.
In an email to the Weekly, Beth Bowman, the managing director for SCC writes, "SCC and the City agreed that management of the Forest Theater by a different entity would allow [SCC] to focus on its core responsibility to shepherd the flagship Sunset Center property through the uncertainty of the global pandemic."
The Carmel City Council is set to review and consider the recommendation on March 2 during a regular scheduled city council meeting. Representatives from PacRep or the Forest Theater Guild did not respond to requests for comment by the Weekly's deadline.