Commissioners have agreed to renew the city's lease with the Waterfront Playhouse, in its 74th year, at the nonprofit's request.
The early renewal of the 10-year lease, which was to start in November, was needed so that the group can apply for grants to complete some $150,000 in planned renovations, including new seats, a new air-conditioning system and new awnings outside.
"We can't go to the TDC [Tourist Development Council of Monroe County] unless we have a signed lease from all of you," said Bob Frechette, a nine-year member of the playhouse's board of directors at Tuesday's commission meeting. "The TDC won't give us money until they know we'll be in that building for the next 10 years. I just need you all to say yes."
Commissioners agreed 7-0 to continue leasing the old converted icehouse for $250 a month, plus 50 percent of any net revenue that comes from private, for-profit uses.
Frechette spoke at Tuesday's commission meeting, ticking off a list of renovations the playhouse has completed on the city's property, along with paying for all insurance policies and utilities.
The Key West Players is marking its 75th anniversary next season, having staged shows at the Waterfront Playhouse for a half century.
No one is raking in profits at the theater located at Tift's Lane and Wall Street, but the nonprofit has invested nearly $790,000 in major improvements since 2004, including a new roof, plus about $55,000 for repairs and maintenance.
The playhouse's 2012-13 season, which cost $767,210, ran at a $229,559 loss, according to figures sent to the city. Over the past five years, the total shortfall was more than $1.4 million.
Ticket sales last year hit nearly $398,000 while private donations and fundraising generated under $377,000.
Commissioner Tony Yaniz praised the nonprofit at Tuesday's meeting, pulling the lease item off the consent agenda so he could add "extra support" to the arts group.
"What they do with the space they have is a miracle," Yaniz said, adding there is space behind the theater that the nonprofit could put to use.
"I would implore our commission to have Mr. Frechette bring something back. This space is used for nothing, it kind of hides some of the homeless people who sleep there. If we could see our way toward giving them that property as part of the lease, I think it would make the waterfront better if that's possible. "
In 1961, the Key West Players began looking for a permanent home, having been together for 20 years. At the same time, Key West was grappling with historic preservation of the waterfront as the island headed toward a tourist-driven economy, the nonprofit said in a history timeline.
"The Players needed a building large enough to serve as a theater and the city had a dilapidated warehouse on the old Mallory docks that was fast becoming a liability," the nonprofit recalled. "The city building was little more than four collapsing walls, a weak roof, a shaky second floor and a loose rock and dirt floor."
The city delayed rent payments for three years, in light of the restoration costs.
A 20-year lease was signed. The partnership between the city and the arts nonprofit remains healthy today with the nonprofit continuing to pour money into the building.
"We have over the last four years completely reroofed the building at a cost of well over $125,000," Frechette said. "We installed all new electrical in the building, had to tear out everything that was in there and redid it up to city code at a cost of over $75,000."