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Compass Rose Theater moving, not without drama

Compass Rose Theater has had some unconventional homes. The Annapolis-based professional theater company started in an empty McDonald’s in Eastport in 2011. In the last four years, the theater housed itself on Spa Road in what used to be a rug cleaning building. On Sunday night, Compass Rose’s founder announced the company plans to finally move into a brand new theater.

Lucinda Merry-Browne, founder and producing artistic director, unveiled plans for Compass Rose’s next moves at a theater event.

On Dec. 31, the company will uproot its production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which began at the Spa Road location on Dec. 8, and move into a building on Forest Drive. Merry-Browne says the company plans to lease the building at the intersection of Spa Road and Forest Drive for two to three years, until that building is redeveloped.

By then, Merry-Browne says the company will hopefully be moved into a brand new theater built by Bozzuto Homes. The home building company is planning to make the the new 6800-foot theater the center of its 25-home development project on the WNAV property on Admiral Drive.

Bozzuto Homes President Tom Baum entered into a contract to purchase the site of the 7.48-acre radio station property, which is partially owned by “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak’ broadcasting company, in September. He says he plans on turning it into a residential project that would serve the 55-plus community and empty-nesters, but that he has received pushback from the community.

“The community didn’t want any new development into their neighborhood. They like it just the way it is,” Baum said. “There was a lot of resistance to the concept of tying in Cedar Park Drive. The community didn’t even want to talk about it. They were just against it.”

Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, voiced his stance against the development when the WNAV property was first purchased, citing plans for the development to be accessed through Cedar Park Drive in Admiral Heights.

“Let me make myself clear. I 100% oppose this development! The time is now to stop this from happening,” Paone wrote in a Facebook post.

At the Compass Rose Theater announcement event, Bozzuto Homes presented renderings of what the property including the theater would look like, though Baum reiterated that planning is in its earliest stages and that there will be more public input meetings.

“Connectivity is what we strive for when we build a community. I started thinking about Lucinda’s plight and that the theater needed a current home. They do such fabulous shows and have educational opportunities. I thought we could offer to make space available to anchor our community at the WNAV property,” Baum said. “She was thrilled with that prospect. She’s gotta make the theater happen— this is her endeavor in terms of getting the theater build and getting funding— but I feel like it is an additive thing that gives an identity and a place-maker for the WNAV company. The houses and the theater would coexist peacefully.”

Both new Compass Rose locations will have free onsite parking. Currently, theater-goers have to pay at the West Garrett Garage or Park Place Garage before walking to the Spa Road location.

“Compass Rose theater exists for the benefit of the Annapolis community and beyond,” Merry-Browne told The Capital before the announcement. “We’re really excited that we are able to give to the community, and the community gives to us, because arts are what makes life worth living.”

Merry-Browne says Compass Rose will have to raise funds to make the new theater happen, but she’s confident the company can generate the money through fundraising, donations and grants.

Merry-Browne also announced she will be starting a new group at the theater called Compass Rose Navigators, which will be a group of supporters of the theater who will help with strategy and design of the new project.

Aside from the drama of Compass Rose’s second-act move to the WNAV property, the plan in moving to Forest Drive came with a plot twist of its own.

When the theater got the offer to move to the office building on Forest Drive, Merry Browne discovered it was not zoned properly to house a theater company. Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4 sponsored a text amendment to the zoning code to allow a theater in the professional zone, which was adopted Oct. 23.

“Compass Rose needs to exist in a more comprehensive venue where the production values of the shows are equal to the excellence that we have in productions,” Merry-Browne said. “We are very sad to leave the arts district, but maybe the arts district will come to us. We’re not sure.”

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