Theater is closed for safety violations President of stage company at Parole Plaza says action is unnecessary

January 19, 1998

The James Adams II Theatre at Parole was closed before it could open its second production last week after county fire inspectors found a laundry list of violations and that it was operating without proper permits.

The fledgling theater operating in space in Parole Plaza once occupied by Rickey's Appliances and Campbell's Auctions has no exit lights, no emergency lights, no fire alarm and no sprinklers, Chief John Scholz, the county's fire department spokesman, said Friday.

"He was operating in a space that could hold 473 people, and there were a lot of public safety issues," Scholz said.

Spike Parrish, president of the theater, complained that the fire department action was "totally uncalled for."

The county bureaucracy has "sunk the project by its heavy-handed manner of enforcing codes based on what could be and not what in reality exists," he said in a statement.

While the space could accommodate hundreds, Parrish said he never drew more than 40 at a performance.

He said he could not afford to sink thousands of dollars into fire safety measures when his lease allows his landlord to evict him with 30 days' notice.

The shopping center is to be torn down to make way for an office and retail complex.

Parrish has been trying since 1993 to re-create the James Adams Floating Theatre, which played in ports up and down the Chesapeake Bay in the first half of the century. His first effort failed in 1996 when he was unable to get loan guarantees.

He has obtained a state grant of $200,000 but must raise private matching donations before he can get the grant.

He opened the theater in Parole in November with a production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" and was prepared to open John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" Friday.

A fire inspector in the area noticed the theater and saw that the only permit for the space was for use as an office or rehearsal hall, Scholz said.

The inspector checked county records and found that Parrish had not obtained permits for the extensive electrical work involved in theater lighting or to operate as a place of public assembly and ordered the closing.

Parrish argued that any "reasonable-thinking official" would have noted the code deficiencies and given him 60 days to comply.

The deficiencies "pose no safety risks to anyone," he said.

That may be so, Scholz responded, but "we have no authority to allow someone to break the law."

Pub Date: 1/19/98

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